LAUREL -- With the Laurel Turf Cup switched to the dirt track, people around the winner's circle yesterday couldn't resist referring to it as the "Laurel Dirt Cup."
The race carried a $100,000 guaranteed purse, and the nine starters all had their names on saddlecloths made just for the occasion.
But with a change in racing surface and a reduction in distance from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/4 miles, it was open to a little joking.
Trainer Rodger Gill smiled for a different reason, however. Things were just fine for Gill, trainer of Chas' Whim, the winner.
The different surface wasn't significant, he said.
"I think he might have been a little happier on the turf," the trainer said. "But it's about the same. He won easy in his only two starts on the turf, but he's been doing good on the dirt, too. He's a nice horse, but we were real lucky the way things turned out."
When he was asked about jockey Allen Stacy's being able to take it easy on the front end, Gill said, "I don't think the fractions [fractional times] made any difference, either."
Gill didn't say it, but he was implying that Chas' Whim is superior to his eight rivals. The result reflected that belief.
Chas' Whim was trying a race as far as 1 1/4 miles for the first time, but he was winning as if he were in a middle-distance race at which he has excelled.
The turf course still was soggy yesterday, but the main track had dried out and was rated fast. Chas' Whim raced to the finish line in 2 minutes, 3 seconds.
Chas' Whim won by 4 1/4 lengths as top-weighted entrant and strong favorite in a race that has been subjected to bad weather and transfer to the main track many times. He paid $4.40 to win.
Because it has a hundred-grand value and is a Grade III event, the Turf Cup usually attracts quality horses from out of town.
But yesterday, Chas' Whim was the quality, although he is based in Maryland.
Chas' Whim led all the way in earning the first prize of $60,000.
Chas' Whim turned back bids by Gallant Tiger, then Rebuff and Learned Jake before romping away in the late stretch. Learned Jake wound up second, with jockey Mark Johnston wishing that he had been a little closer early in the race.
Gill said he is unsure about the gelding's next start. "Maybe in the Walter Haight Handicap [at 1 1/8 miles on Dec. 15]," the trainer said, "then maybe we'll put him away for the year. I haven't decided."
Last in the Laurel Turf Cup yesterday was Gallant Tiger, with Mike Luzzi aboard. Gallant Tiger was the extreme long shot, at 38-1 and probably figured to run last.
But he had a riding hero aboard. Luzzi, who rode two winners on the 11-race card yesterday, vaulted into the lead among Laurel jockeys.
He has 43 winners, one more than the injured Edgar Prado.
"It's nice, but it's not all that important just to be in front," said Luzzi, who led the nation's apprentices last year and has done well since losing the ranking.
"I'm trying to win every race I can, and it's a tough, competitive meeting here," he said. "Jockeys are coming in from everywhere.
"I think, though, that by doing as well as I have, it does show trainers here that they don't have to go somewhere to get a good rider."