With each passing month, Mark Johnston's accomplishments over the first seven months of 1990 seem more astounding.
He lost his apprentice allowance in August and has had to endure powerful competition among the good journeymen riders Maryland.
But he's still the leading apprentice in the country, based on winning rides, and appears to be a cinch champion by year's end.
When he lost the apprenticeship, he had 249 winners. At last count, Oct. 31, Vann Belvoir, campaigning in California, was second in the national apprentice standings with 150 winners. That means Belvoir would need 50 winners in each of the two succeeding months, November and December.
That hardly seems likely. Even Kent Desormeaux couldn't maintain an average of 50 winners per month over an extended period when he established the world record by winning with 598 horses in one year. Johnston was averaging 35 a month during his hot streak.
Unless some apprentice gets red-hot in New York next month, Johnston figures to be voted an Eclipse Award for apprentices.
Johnston is sixth in the overall standings at Laurel. He still rides many horses for his main client, trainer King Leatherbury, but not many others use his services.
* Desormeaux, who hasn't campaigned regularly in Maryland in 11 months, still leads in one category at the Laurel meeting, which began Sept. 20.
In his occasional visits from California for stakes races here, Desormeaux has ridden eight winners with 18 mounts. That's a winning percentage of .444, highest of any rider who's had more than two winners.
* Chick Lang's one-hour special on WBAL Radio Thursday night gave insights into the thinking of trainers Charlie Whittingham and Wayne Lukas. The show figures to earn the station another (( Eclipse Award nomination.
The show had been recorded the day before the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park. Lang asked whether they would rather win the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic or the Kentucky Derby, which might be considered valued at about $1 million.
Whittingham, who ignored the Derby for 26 years, then won two of them -- Ferdinand in 1986 and Sunday Silence in 1989 -- said the race at Churchill Downs gave him a bigger kick than any other race. He also said that Sunday Silence, his last Derby winner, is better than any of the thousands of other horses he ever trained.
Perhaps that's why Sunday Silence dominated Easy Goer, the horse many Easterners thought was so great.
Lukas, who had won 10 Breeders' Cup races before getting shut out in 1990, has won one Derby -- Winning Colors in 1988 -- with many tries. He said the Derby is better, "even though the Breeders' Cup [Classic] is worth more money. It's the tradition and the roots that make the Derby so great."
Lukas also told Lang, "I will win a Triple Crown."
* Add the once-great Ak-Sar-Ben track to thoroughbred plants that are in danger of folding because of business declines.
The track in Omaha, Neb., used to be the star of the Midwest in business, but when Iowa legalized pari-mutuel gambling and installed the Bluffs Run dog track across the river from Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa, eight-minutes' drive from Ak-Sar-Ben, the horse track got shaky.
Dedicated gamblers would go to matinee cards at the dog track, rush to Ak-Sar-Ben for a late-afternoon program starting at 3 p.m., then goback to Council Bluffs for a night card. That meant the dog track had the opportunity to take two-thirds of a business that had represented a horse monopoly for decades.
When the Woodlands track in Kansas City, Kan., opened last year,it took away the entire Kansas City market, about two hours from Omaha, and it also stole some of the horses that might otherwise have raced at Ak-Sar-Ben.
An Ak-Sar-Ben spokesman said the track and surrounding property "has become more valuable than the income it generates [as a racetrack]."
* Maryland racing, which has prospered despite competition with
Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia, may lose part of the 1.5 million-population market in Northern Virginia when that state opens tracks within two years.
The state's hope in salvaging part of the business in Virginia will be to conduct intertrack betting at Rose
croft Raceway and then eventually to build OTB sites even closet to the Potomac River.
Another logical OTB move would be to install several OTB sites along the Washington border, in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
No politician or racing executive has suggested lining the borders of those two counties with OTB shops.