LAUREL -- A torn boot, a nagging ailment, a spill or two, a couple of suspensions. Next thing you know, there'll be no jockeys left to ride.
No fewer than 6 of Maryland's better-known riders will be out today for the 11-race program at Laurel Race Course. The latest apparent casualty is veteran Joe Rocco, who injured a chronically tender right foot in a gate mishap in yesterday's fifth race. Bay Capp exited his No. 1 stall awkwardly, banging Rocco's foot against the door and ripping his boot.
"He's going to try to ride today," said Rocco's agent, Tom Hauer. "You know him. He'll be out in the morning, seeing how he feels."
But given the nature of the injury, Rocco, 31, may not be able to fulfill his engagement on His Ginger in the featured Cameo Stakes, nor any of his 4 other scheduled mounts. Initially, a track official said the foot was believed to be broken, but after X-rays at Greater Laurel/Beltsville Hospital, it turned out to be badly bruised, Hauer said. Rocco has broken the heel on the same foot twice, including once earlier this year.
Rocco likely will join several colleagues on the sideline. Rick Wilson said he has been experiencing pain in his side in excusing himself from mounts yesterday and today. Michael Hunter and Larry Saumell remain idle because of ailments incurred in recent spills. Tommy Turner and Mark Johnston are serving the balance of suspensions.
Still, there are races to be run. His Ginger, Rocco or no, appears to be a solid contender in today's Cameo, a $50,000, 1 1/16-mile event for 2-year-old fillies. The filly is 2-for-4 lifetime, her last race being a 15-length loss in the Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct.
"I'm sure she's capable of running better than that," said trainer Ron Benshoff. "Maybe it was the inner track [Aqueduct has a quirky "inner" surface for use in the winter]; maybe it was the shipping [from her Laurel base]. I'm putting blinkers on her today, which is something I've always wanted to do."
Benshoff acknowledged that the likely favorites, Good Looking Terri and Carrtown's Margaret, are the fillies to beat. "Those other two look pretty good," he conceded.
NOTES: Fire Plug has raced for the last time. The decision to retire the obscurely bred 8-year-old was made early this week by Bob Camac, who trained the gelding to win 28 of 54 starts and $705,175 for owner Arthur Appleton. Camac said chronic infirmities stopped the career of Fire Plug, who won his last start, a Laurel allowance race Dec. 7. . . . Brilliant Brass, away from the races since Feb. 3, wore down odds-on Wood So to win yesterday's Laurel feature. Favorites won 6 of the 10 races. . . . Mike Luzzi won 2 races, bringing him within 3 of Edgar Prado atop the riders' standings. Prado won once yesterday, aboard Brilliant Brass, and has 71 victories in this meet. . . . After the Cameo, just 2 stakes remain at Laurel for 1991. . . . Doug Vair, former in-house television handicapper at Maryland tracks, has been hired as marketing director at Bandera Downs. Vair was among the approximately 40 employees laid off early last month.