LAUREL -- Half Gavvo gave him the one and Valley Crossing the two, but Gala Spinaway emerged a likely champion yesterday at Laurel Race Course.
Absorbing the stretch combination that trainer Richard Small's uncoupled duo threw at him, Gala Spinaway probably clinched a Maryland-bred award with a narrow victory in the $50,000 Annapolis Handicap. The triumph was probably the most exciting and hard-earned of a rigorous 1991 campaign for the 3-year-old colt.
Half Gavvo, with Edgar Prado up, drew even with Gala Spinaway with an inside rally with a quarter-mile left in the 1 1/8 -mile Annapolis. "From the quarter-pole until 70 yards to go, my only concern was Edgar's horse," said winning jockey Gregg McCarron. "And inside the last 30 yards, my only concern was Valley Crossing."
For sure, Valley Crossing was gaining on the outside. While Gala Spinaway maintained a slim advantage over Half Gavvo, Valley Crossing was lumbering toward them, full of momentum on the outside.
"Around the turn, I thought I was empty," said Mike Luzzi, who rode Valley Crossing, "but then he started rolling. After the wire, Gregg said I won, but I told him, no, he won."
Gala Spinaway, the 8-5 favorite in a field of seven Maryland-breds, hit the wire a nose ahead of Valley Crossing. Half Gavvo was a head behind in third, with Smart Alec another six lengths behind in fourth.
"This is a hickory little horse," said McCarron, a 43-year-old veteran who returned to action only last week after injuring his back in early November in a post-race spill.
McCarron regained the mount on Gala Spinaway even though Greg Hutton, in McCarron's absence, rode him to win the Northern Dancer Stakes in his prior start for owner Gertrude Leviton and trainer Bernie Bond. When a horse wins, trainers can reluctant to replace the rider -- but after many years as a successful tandem, Bond's loyalty to McCarron remains unwavering.
"You're my man," Bond told McCarron amid a jubilant winner's circle gathering.
NOTES: The Annapolis field was reduced to 7 early in the day when Special Counsel and Dandy Danzig were scratched. Both are entered in the ninth race tomorrow. . . . Mario Pino, third in the jockey standings behind Prado and Luzzi, rode 3 winners yesterday. . . . Horseplayers with "live" Pick-3 tickets going into the sixth race have been left in the dark the past 2 days. The posting of probable payoffs continues to be done on a hit-or-miss basis. . . . Mixed Appeal, an 18-length winner when making her career debut on Nov. 30, returns to competition tomorrow in the sixth race, an allowance sprint. . . . Tommy Turner and Mark Johnston have been suspended 7 days apiece for separate riding infractions on Friday. Johnston's penalty is scheduled to begin today and Turner's Wednesday. . . . Maryland-based Runaway Stream finished second behind Nome in the Queens County Handicap at Aqueduct Saturday.