If one were given, Larry Soroka would be accepting an award for top rookie trainer when the Pimlico Race Course meeting ends Tuesday.
Soroka's numbers have been the surprise of the 76-day-old meeting; he has won 19 races, including yesterday's Pimlico opener with Move Swiftly. One year ago, he was training one horse -- a non-descript claimer named Yampacala.
The 32-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native worked for Woody Stephens for five years before resigning and moving to Maryland last summer.
"It's hard to get started in an area you don't know anybody," said Soroka, who earned an accounting degree at the University of Maryland but knew no one in racing in this area. "But I figured it's good because it's year-round, and behind New York and California, there's no better racing."
Soroka was stable foreman for the last two years (1985-86) of Stephens' five straight Belmont Stakes victories. "But I wasn't one of his glamour assistants, you might say," he said. "Guys like Billy Badgett, Phil Gleaves, David Donk -- they did well right away after leaving Woody. I decided just to come here and start from scratch."
Soroka's 19 victories from 77 starts (24.7 percent) place him seventh in the standings, easily best among first-year trainers. Dale Capuano is the overall leader, with 34; King Leatherbury is second, with 32.
* In one of those mundane but obligatory rulings released by the Maryland stewards virtually every racing day, the following item: "The partnership of Summa Stable . . . [including] Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and Earvin Johnson, having raced the horse Honor Grades in the 10th race at Pimlico on Saturday, May 18, and having failed to comply with licensing procedures, is hereby precluded from participating in racing until the applications have been filed and the fees paid."
Translation: Bruce, the Great One and Magic ran Honor Grades in the Preakness but didn't bother to pay the $95 fee required for an owner's license. Think they couldn't afford one?
* Trainer Carlos Garcia has been suspended 15 days because one of his horses, Jazzy, tested positive for metabolites of cocaine. Garcia will appeal the decision to the Maryland Racing Commission.
Last month, a Maryland cocaine-related case became something of a national cause celebre. The commission upheld the suspension of trainer Charlie Hadry, a 40-year veteran with an impeccable record, despite outcries of miscarried justice from Hadry's attorney, friends and colleagues. A groom had implicated himself of tainting Hadry's horse, but the commission, citing the absolute insurer rule, which holds a trainer ultimately responsible for his horse's condition, ordered Hadry to serve the suspension.
* Dress Optional rallied to the lead in the early stretch, then held off a late bid from Little Bold Lookin to win yesterday's $20,000 Pimlico feature.
The 3-year-old Private Account filly, ridden by Mike Luzzi, gave trainer Richard Small back-to-back winners.
"She made the lead and kind of started waiting on horses," Luzzi said. "Then, when she heard another horse, she kept digging in."
Dress Optional, the favorite in a field of seven, paid $6.40 to win.
Luzzi trails Edgar Prado, 83-79, in the jockeys race.