LAUREL -- If it holds together, the $100,000 Congressional Handicap at Laurel Race Course today shapes up as one of Maryland's most attractive races of the year.
"It's sure not an easy race," said trainer John Hicks, who entered Midas in the Congressional. "There are some top horses in it. Unfortunately, I think you might see some defections because of the weather."
The field for the 1 1/4 -mile race is headed by Chas' Whim, a winner of eight of 13 starts and $239,641 this year. He is one of four 3-year-olds entered; Runaway Stream, Temper Time and Reputed Testamony are the others. Until recently, 3-year-olds could run within their age group and not have to face older horses, who generally are considered stronger until late in the year.
Although Chas' Whim was beaten by 3-year-olds in his previous start, he has two victories over older runners. "I've beaten all of the top contenders in the race except [John] Mobberley's horse," said Rodger Gill, trainer of Chas' Whim. Four-year-old Jet Stream, trained by Mobberley, is entered off a 5 1/4 -length victory in the Walter Haight Handicap.
"This is a pretty well-balanced race," said Laurel racing secretary Larry Abbundi, who assigned Chas' Whim high weight of 119 pounds. "Chas' Whim is tough, Runaway Stream is on the improve, Peanut Butter Onit ran against good ones in New Jersey and Jet Stream would be right if it's sloppy."
Early speed will play a major role in the Congressional if yesterday's Laurel results are a fair indication. Times were especially fast, and front-runners won seven of 10 races. A sloppy, speed-favoring surface would figure to help Chas' Whim, an established front-runner, or Jet Stream, who won the Haight in the slop.
"The bottom of the track is hard," said jockey Mark Johnston. "It's not uneven, but it's hard. That's why they're running so fast."
The Congressional field of 11 was reduced by one when Joker's Farce was scratched yesterday. Due North is a likely scratch if the track remains off, and Hicks said he may declare Midas if sloppy conditions prevail.
With poor weather yesterday, the handle was only $1,157,516, far below the $1,440,329 wagered on the corresponding 1989 date. There were 19 late scratches, including seven in the fifth race, which left a field of six and mandated cancellation of Double Triple and regular Triple wagering.
First post for today, and the following three days, is noon.