LAUREL -- Valley Crossing doesn't have a drop of Native Dancer blood in his well-bred veins.
But he won the race at Laurel yesterday that honors the memory of that great runner and gave his trainer, Dick Small, hope for winning a third running of the John B. Campbell Handicap at the end of the winter.
Small previously has won the Campbell with Festive Mood in 1976 and Broad Brush in 1987.
Last summer Small thought Valley Crossing might be "the kind of horse I'd send to California this winter and run in the Strub series," he said. In 1987, Small placed in two of the three rich Strub stakes with Broad Brush as well as winning the Santa Anita Handicap.
But the gigantic 3-year-old turned out to be a bit too inconsistent to attempt such a move: "He lost races that I thought he couldn't possibly lose," Small said.
But yesterday Valley Crossing won his first race since he triumphed at 78-1 odds in September in the Pennsylvania Derby and equaled the Native Dancer stakes record set by Learned Jake in 1989. He ran the nine furlongs in 1 minute, 48 3/5 seconds, after stalking pace-setters Baron de Vaux and J.R's Horizon.
He swept by his regular rival, Gala Spinaway, ran wide in the stretch and beat him 1 1/4 lengths. Midas rallied to finish third. Valley Crossing,
sent off as the third choice in the six-horse field, returned $9, $4 and $3.60. Gala Spinaway paid $3.20 and $2.80. Midas returned $3.80.
Valley Crossing evened the score with Gala Spinaway in stakes competition. Gala Spinaway had beaten him in the Humphrey Finney and Northern Dancer stakes and the Annapolis Handicap. But Valley Crossing has defeated him in the Governor's Cup, Pennsylvania Derby and now, the Native Dancer Handicap.
Small attributed the win to Edgar Prado's handling of the difficult colt.
"He's a hard horse to ride," Small said. "Andrea Seefeldt found the key to this horse when she won the Pennsylvania Derby on him. You literally have to throw his head away and not take hold of him. If you don't, he runs his race too early, and doesn't finish."
Seefeldt is recovering from a broken collarbone. The mount on Valley Crossing went to Prado for the first time yesterday, after the horse's owner, Bob Meyerhoff, told Small he wanted a jockey change. Mike Luzzi had previously been riding the horse.
It was Prado's second consecutive win in the Native Dancer. Last year he won the race on Jet Stream.
The disappointment in the race was favored Baron de Vaux, who had the lead in the backstretch, then dropped out of contention at the half-mile pole.
* Services for Grover "Penny" Wilson will be held at the Eckhardt funeral establishment at 11605 Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
The long-time assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Henry Clark died Sunday in Hanover, Pa. Wilson had been in failing health for the past two years.