LAUREL -- Jockey Gregg McCarron made a triumphant return to the saddle yesterday, winning the Laurel Race Course feature with Until Dawn.
McCarron, 43, had been sidelined with an injured back since he was spilled after a Laurel race in early November by Gala Ding a Ling, a filly trained by Bernie Bond.
Until Dawn also is trained by Bond. The colt led all the way to capture the $18,500 race by 2 1/2 lengths over Bisher.
"I'm feeling good," said McCarron. "The neat thing about this game is that you get to hang on to young kids and you don't get to feeling old, being around them so much. In other professions, you grow old with your peers, but it doesn't seem to be that way in racing."
As McCarron returned to the winner's circle, he asked a stable hand, "Can I open my eyes now?"
Later, he said: "That's a little game I play with Bernie. He tells me to send a horse to the front, so I tell him I just close my eyes the whole way around the racetrack. If nobody's in front of me at the wire, I know I've won."
The mount on Until Dawn was McCarron's second of the day. He finished fifth with Millersville in the eighth, a race won by Seven Salutes, who returned from an 8 1/2 -month layoff to defeat $20,000 claimers with a late rally.
Seven Salutes is trained by King Leatherbury, who won the program finale with Already Gone. Leatherbury's 24 winners lead the 47-day-old meet.
* Jockey Mike Luzzi has been suspended seven days by the stewards for a recent riding infraction. The penalty is scheduled to begin Saturday.
Luzzi's mount, Sir Darlin, was disqualified from first to third in the sixth race Sunday for drifting inward near the finish.
Luzzi, along with Joe Rocco and Danny Wright, was absent from Laurel yesterday while attending the Jockeys' Guild annual convention in Las Vegas. With Luzzi away, Edgar Prado's one winner yesterday gives him a 61-60 edge over Luzzi atop the jockey standings.
NOTES: Jerry Bailey has been named winner of the 1991 George Woolf Memorial Award. The award, named for the renowned jockey killed in a spill at Santa Anita Park in 1946, recognizes jockeys whose character and career have been especially noteworthy during the year. McCarron was among 5 others up for the award. . . . Festin, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup and second in points in the American Championship Racing Series, has been retired to stud. No specific farm has been decided for him by owner Burt Kinerk.