LAUREL -- Mario Pino tried a little inventive riding near the eighth pole on front-runner Wood So in yesterday's Conniver Handicap.
But he still couldn't thwart the rush of Brilliant Brass.
The roan mare, ridden by Edgar Prado, came from last place in the five-horse field and overhauled Wood So about 40 yards from the finish.
But in the midst of his stretch run, Prado was forced to take up on the mare and change lanes when Pino closed an opening on the rail.
"I saw her [Brilliant Brass] coming on the inside, and thought I'm not going to let her have clear sailing," Pino said. He closed the hole, forcing Prado to maneuver to the outside.
Brilliant Brass still got up in time and beat the Barbara Fritchie winner by a half-length. Had the result been reversed, Prado, no doubt, would have claimed foul, even though Pino maintains he had room and timed the move perfectly.
"It just didn't work," he said.
The Conniver was expected to be a match race between Wood So and Wide Country. And it was, until the top of the stretch.
Wide Country, who was the slight favorite, challenged Wood So on the turn, but tired and finished third, 3 1/4 lengths behind the top pair.
It was the first stakes victory for Brilliant Brass, who has been campaigned sparingly by her trainer, Carlos Garcia.
Although she was overlooked in the betting, Brilliant Brass had beaten Wood So in December, right before the Katy Voss-trained mare started a three-race win streak. She was assigned 8 pounds fewer than Wood So by handicapper Larry Abbundi, but carried 2 pounds overweight.
Brilliant Brass ran the seven furlongs in 1 minute, 23 3/5 seconds, the second-fastest time at the meeting for seven furlongs, and three-fifths of a second faster than Wood So's winning time in the Barbara Fritchie. Senor Speedy ran the meet's fastest seven furlongs (1:21 4/5) when he won the General George Stakes on Feb. 17.
Brilliant Brass capped a memorable weekend for owners Nick and Elaine Bassford. On Saturday, their 3-year-old colt Ameri Valay, who is trained by King Leatherbury, won the Private Terms Stakes.
The Bassfords own about 60 horses, including breeding stock. They have 20 runners split among three different trainers. They have also won stakes this year with Leatherbury-trained Wait For The Lady (Squan Song Handicap) and Festive Feathers (Goss L. Stryker Stakes), trained by Ricky Sillaman.
NOTES: Charles Town-based High Degree ran the the fastest 1 1/16 miles of the meet in yesterday's eighth race, getting the distance in 1:42, one-fifth of a second off the track record set by Willard Scott in 1985. . . . Silver Tango, who shipped to Turfway Park to avoid meeting Wood So and Wide Country in the Conniver, finished seventh yesterday in the Marigold Stakes. She was ridden by Mike Luzzi. . . . Brilliant Brass' victory was the second in the Conniver for Garcia. He won in 1976 with War Exchange. . . . Garcia said that America The Free, who was recently sold to the Clover Racing Stable and finished third Saturday in the Private Terms Stakes, is staying in his barn, at least for one more race. He said the colt will run next in the $100,000 Cherry Hill Mile on March 28 at Garden State Park. . . . Bob Camac, trainer of Wide Country, was not at Laurel yesterday for the Conniver. He is in Florida, attending the 2-year-old-in-training sales at Ocala. . . . The first three finishers in both the Santa Anita Handicap and the Gulfstream Park Handicap have been nominated to the May 9 Pimlico Special. . . . Ferris Allen, board member of the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, said a betting window which opened last Friday in the track kitchen is helping improve business in that backstretch facility. "The kitchen was losing money and was virtually empty in the afternoon," Allen said. "I went in yesterday afternoon and every seat was filled."