LAUREL -- Joe Rocco played through pain yesterday, oblivious to a swollen left ankle. His fortitude landed him in the winner's circle, limp and all.
Rocco guided His Ginger to a hard-fought victory in Laurel Race Course's Cameo Stakes, a race that allowed the filly to display as much courage as her jockey. His Ginger appeared beaten in mid-stretch after fading from a share of the lead to fourth, but she rallied to win by a half-length over My Sweet Alesia.
"It's sore," Rocco said of the ankle, "but once you leave the gate, you don't feel anything. The adrenalin flows."
His Ginger contested a slow pace outside of Carrtown's Margaret in the 1 1/16-mile Cameo, then saw My Sweet Alesia and Sweet Willa pass her at the eighth pole.
"She really dug down," said Rocco, and the cleverly named daughter of Fred Astaire surged to her first stakes victory. She paid $14.60 to win in a field of nine 2-year-old fillies.
Rocco bruised his ankle badly in a gate mishap Friday, leaving him so pained that he had no intention of riding yesterday. But his agent, Tom Hauer, told him he could drop an appeal and serve a pending suspension and, if he would only ride his five scheduled mounts, he would be permitted to serve the penalty. Steward Clinton P. Pitts Jr. agreed, saying Rocco would not have been allowed to take the days, if he had not ridden because jockeys are not allowed to serve suspensions as matters of convenience.
Rocco has seven days to serve for an infraction that dates to early October, but he will not be allowed to return until Jan. 1
because of a rule dealing with jockeys' appeals, one which adds three days to the original penalty.
Trainer Ron Benshoff put blinkers on His Ginger for the first time, and it was not the only win at Laurel yesterday that involved equipment changes. Trainer Larry Smith won two races by taking blinkers off horses: P.P. Dancer, in the fourth, and P.M. Spiff, in the ninth.
Smith got his Christmas bonus, but it surely did not surpass the one earned by an anonymous Pimlico intertrack patron who swept a Double Triple pool that had carried over for 12 days. The bettor won $159,761 on the third- and fifth-race gimmick.
NOTES: Rocco won with 1 of 4 other mounts yesterday, taking the program opener with Money Special. The 31-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., native has won 4 Maryland stakes in the past 3 weeks, his other recent scores coming aboard Runaway Stream, Anacreontic and Mymet. . . . Mike Luzzi, a close second to Edgar Prado atop the jockey standings, was dumped from 2 horses yesterday but was not injured. . . . Farma Way, the leading point-earner in this year's inaugural American Championship Racing Series and the winner of the Pimlico Special last May, has been retired to stud at Vinery Stud in Midway, Ky. . . . Live coverage of the Hollywood Futurity can be seen on ESPN today at 5 p.m.