LAUREL -- Sticks and Bricks celebrated his birthday yesterday with an easy win in the Star de Naskra Stakes at Laurel Race Course.
Actually, all thoroughbreds become a year older on Jan. 1. But none of the 87 competitors at Laurel did it with the flair of Sticks and Bricks.
The 3-year-old colt was always prominent before he quickly drew away from five Maryland-bred rivals to win the Star de Naskra by 6 1/2 lengths over the early front-runner, Rainbow Prospect. More Paces closed belatedly to finish third, another neck behind.
"I could have gone to the front any time," said winning jockey Edgar Prado. "Mr. Small said to keep him out of trouble. He had a lot of confidence in him."
The 11,654 fans at Laurel and the Pimlico intertrack outlet shared trainer Richard Small's confidence: They made Sticks and Bricks the 11-10 favorite to rebound from a defeat in the Maryland Juvenile Championship.
More Paces, ridden yesterday by Gregg McCarron, won that Dec. 7 race, with Sticks and Bricks a tired fourth. But it was at 1 1/16 miles, while yesterday's race was at seven furlongs. Asked whether the turn-back in distance gave Sticks and Bricks an edge, McCarron said: "I think it did. He just came home too fast for my horse."
Sticks and Bricks, owned by Robert E. Meyerhoff, ran the final furlong in a good 12 2/5 seconds to finish in 1 minute, 24 1/5 seconds on a fast track.
A bizarre incident before the fifth race had the crowd buzzing. Just as the horses were to be loaded in the gate, they were recalled to the paddock for riders to weigh in again.
A security guard had discovered a one-pound lead weight on the paddock runway, leading the stewards to believe the weight might have dropped from a jockey's saddle. If a horse wins a part of the purse without carrying sufficient weight, it must be disqualified, so the unusual recall "was the proper thing to do," said chief steward John Heisler.
However, said Heisler, no jockeys re-weighed under their assignments, and the source of the lead was not found. Some 15 minutes after its scheduled start, Absolutely Joyful rallied to win the $8,500 maiden-claiming sprint.
NOTES: The Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Jockeys' Guild arrived at a contract agreement "in principle" Tuesday night and are expected to complete matters today. . . . Vince "Jimbo" Bracciale Jr., who retired as one of Maryland's top jockeys 2 years ago Saturday, makes his debut as a trainer today. Bracciale will saddle Feelin Better in the second race. . . . Jockey Larry Saumell returned to action yesterday after being out nearly 3 weeks. Saumell said he fractured 3 ribs and incurred other minor injuries in a Dec. 13 spill at Laurel. . . . Gusting, a Charles Town-based gelding, returned the highest win mutuel of the 63-day-old meeting when winning yesterday's second race. He paid $149.40.