Before Link ran to a workmanlike victory in the Woodlawn Stakes yesterday, emotions ran high at Pimlico Race Course.
About an hour earlier, Little Bold John notched his first triumph in 20 months. Just after his longtime fans and handlers urged him on, owner/trainer Jerry Robb walked slowly down a flight of stairs with his wife, Robyn.
Fans greeted Little Bold John and jockey Greg Hutton with whoops and applause as they entered the winner's circle. But something was missing, and it made Robyn Robb cry.
John E. "Jack" Owens and his wife, Roseanne, were not there. They were killed in an automobile accident near St. Michael's eight days ago. It was the 33rd victory in the storied career of Little Bold John, now 9, but the first time he had won with Owens not the owner.
Through their experiences with Little Bold John, with Jerry as his trainer, the Robbs had cultivated a close friendship with the Owenses. The Robbs' Hidden Hill Farm bought the gelding last year from Owens after Owens had become disinterested in the sport. Robb said no hard feelings resulted from the transaction.
Little Bold John was making just his fourth start, and his first in Maryland, for Hidden Hill since returning from surgery on a hind ++ leg. To gain his first win since the Polynesian Handicap on Sept. 30, 1989, he was asked to defeat five rivals in a $27,000 allowance route.
He did so like the champion of old, pressing the pace and then striding away through the stretch to win by three lengths.
"He felt like a young pup," Hutton said afterward.
In the Woodlawn, Link led all the way on a very firm turf course, turning back favored Futurist in the early stretch before finishing lengths ahead of Valley Crossing.
"They didn't push us too fast," said jockey Jacinto Vasquez, who rode three other winners on the program. "When I asked the last quarter-mile, he responded."
Link, a New York-based invader trained by Howie Tesher, paid $8.20 to win after running 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 42 1/5 seconds.