LAUREL -- Richard Delp settled in for the long haul. Arms resting on the grandstand fence and eyes fixed on the tote board, Delp was hopeful victory would not be snatched from his colt.
But when the board went blank, and Smart Alec was disqualified from first to ninth in the $60,000 Challedon Handicap at Laurel Race Course yesterday, Delp, the colt's trainer, quickly abandoned his stand in disgust.
Maryland horseplayers yesterday also settled in for the long haul that defines Laurel's fall/winter meet. They made Track Rebel, a New York invader, a 9-5 favorite over Flaming Emperor in the Challedon, the opening-day feature.
In the end, Flaming Emperor became the beneficiary of a Smart Alec misstep. Smart Alec rallied along the rail to finish 1 1/2 lengths ahead of Flaming Emperor, but the action had just started: The stewards then began considering an objection by Marco Castaneda, who rode Eagle Mill. After about 10 minutes, they ruled Smart Alec moved too far inside at the quarter-pole, hindering a tired Eagle Mill enough to warrant a disqualification.
The revision made Flaming Emperor ($7.20) a winner in his first start in nearly four months. Track Rebel was elevated from third to second, and Hooligamisim from fourth to third.
Mario Pino, who rode Smart Alec, said the blinding sun may have been a factor in the brief, but critical, encounter between Smart Alec and Eagle Mill. In late afternoon, the setting sun plays havoc with riders; they suddenly find themselves staring into it when their mounts turn west toward the finish.
"You really have to think twice about what you're doing," said Pino. "It's hard."
Smart Alec, tracking the leaders from the rail, was full of run after Track Rebel cut out a quick opening half-mile (44 4/5 seconds) in the seven-furlong race for Maryland-breds. As the colt pulled Pino toward the leaders, he passed Eagle Mill from the inside -- but when passing, the stewards ruled, Eagle Mill was hindered. Flaming Emperor, meanwhile, had a clean outside trip before passing Track Rebel in the final 20 yards.
For 3-year-old Smart Alec, a still-improving winner of the USAir Sprint last month on the Maryland Million card, the take-down was his second of the year. The first case, one which does not affect pari-mutuel betting, involves a positive test for a trace of cocaine. That case is under appeal to the Maryland Racing Commission.
* Fields for next weekend's Turf Festival took some definition yesterday. Full fields of 14, with overflow, have been named to the 40th Budweiser International, the All Along Stakes and the Laurel Futurity; 13 remain eligible to the Selima Stakes and 11 to the Laurel Dash.
After pre-entries closed Wednesday, a three-member panel of track officials -- Joe De Francis, Tim Capps and Larry Abbundi -- selected the fields on the basis of merit. Also-eligibles (listed in the Sun in order of preference) will replace defections from their original choices.
NOTES: The $145,257 Double Triple ticket from Pimlico's closing day still has not been cashed. . . . Jockey Joe Rocco won a stay of a 7-day suspension earlier this week pending appeal to the Maryland Racing Commission. . . . Trainer Hank Allen has been suspended 15 days after one of his horses tested positive for a prohibited expectorant. . . . Jockey Greg Hutton and trainer Frannie Campitelli each won $1,000 for top percentage (minimum 15 starts) at the Pimlico meet that ended Tuesday.