LAUREL -- The horse who appeared to be his major competition was scratched, so Smart Alec had things his own way yesterday in the $40,000 J. Edgar Hoover Handicap at Laurel.
Without overnight favorite Flaming Emperor in the field, Smart Alec and jockey Mario Pino easily overtook the front-running Fighting Notion to win the six-furlong -- in 1 minute, 10 1/5 seconds.
Smart Alec broke last while Fighting Notion, who set some rapid fractions, took his speed to the front. But at the 16th pole, the winner came flying by on the outside and was ahead by a widening three lengths at the wire.
"I knew Fighting Notion was real quick and he'd set a good pace," said Pino, who was the winning jockey in two previous runnings of the Hoover (1984 on Double Door Prize and 1989 on Endless Surprise).
"I figured I'd have one horse beat on the backside and I did. He [Smart Alec] fired well, but he didn't put out as much as he could. He's very compact, with good acceleration."
Richard Delp, the victor's trainer, said that when Fighting Notion went the first quarter in 22 seconds, he reasoned that his horse was in good shape.
"I thought that would help us," he said. "He wasn't running with any Sunny Sunrise or Senor Speedy [first two finishers in the General George Stakes]. The field wasn't that tough today."
Especially not with Flaming Emperor missing.
Trainer Kenny Cox pulled out Flaming Emperor, whose career earnings are $547,261, for a run at today's $100,000 Jennings Handicap at 1 1/8 miles. "He ran with these same horses [in the Jennings] two or three weeks ago," said Cox. "And I think they're calling for pretty bad weather Sunday and this horse likes an off track."
pTC Alberto Delgado, who rode Fighting Notion, offered no excuses, noting that "the other horse just caught me. He was just better."
Jeweler's Choice, a lifetime winner of $429,196, came back from a six-month layoff and obviously needed the race, finishing a dull sixth.
* No one hit the Double Triple again yesterday after three moderate long shots -- led by 10-1 winner Making Sawdust -- upset the field in the fifth race.
There were 232 live tickets entering the race. The carry-over pool ballooned to $285,342.70.
Interest in the big payoff helped Laurel smash the corresponding handle from last year by nearly $500,000. Attendance was also up by more than 1,000 patrons.
NOTES: Apprentice Charles Fenwick had three winners on yesterday's card, including the ride aboard Making Sawdust ($23.80). Pino had a double. . . . The plans for Three Peat, who dazzled in the Bay Shore at Aqueduct yesterday, are to continue running in the big stakes events in New York, skip the Kentucky Derby, then compete here in the Preakness. . . . The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga (N.Y.) has appointed Peter Hammell as its new director. A long-time employee of the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Del., in various capacities, he is the third director of the racing shrine and succeeds David Zdunczyk. . . . Free admission and a free program are among the inducements to opening day at Pimlico Thursday. . . . A promising 3-year-old, Ky Lord, had to be destroyed yesterday after breaking a leg during a morning workout at Laurel. He was sired by Alydar.