LAUREL -- A combination of the right trainer and some much-needed experience has thrust Victoria Schlesinger into the forefront of the nation's steeplechaser riders.
"This year I'm pretty determined," said Schlesinger, a native of the hunt country north of London, who lives in Butler, Md.
Schlesinger will be aboard today when Charles Fenwick Jr. saddles Count Glen and Three Bells For Me in the first two jumping races at Laurel Race Course in 31 years.
She will enter those races with the highest money winning total ($163,165) of any steeplechase rider in America. During a sizzling spring campaign, Schlesinger won 10 races, equaling her total for all of last season.
"I ride almost exclusively for Mr. Fenwick," said Schlesinger, who triumphed with Talkin Butter in the $40,000 Temple Gwathmey at Middleburg, Va., and in the $60,000 Bolla Hard Scuffle Handicap in Prospect, Ky., this spring.
Schlesinger, 27, never engaged race riding until she came to this country at age 18.
But a meeting at a Maryland wedding with Frank Bonsal, a legend in American timber racing, gave her a foothold in learning the basics. She then joined the Fenwick team as an exercise rider in 1988.
Her first official ride in a timber race was one held for apprentices at the Virginia Gold Cup in 1990.
When Fenwick's son, Charles III, took his tack to the flat racing circuit, she seized the opportunity to be the stable's No. 1 steeplechase jockey.
She expects Count Glen to encounter tough opposition in today's fourth race, particularly from Political Profit, but said the horse may take to the flat surface because "he doesn't like to go up hills."
* Fighting Notion, who set a 6-furlong track record (1 minute, 8 seconds) opening day at Laurel, has suffered a minor injury that will keep him from competing in the $300,000 De Francis Dash July 18.
"He examined him, and found a tiny lesion in his tendon. said trainer Nancy Heil. "They said to give him six weeks (off)."
NOTES: Sunny Sunrise, second in the Budweiser Breeders' Cup last Sunday, has been nominated for the De Francis Dash. . . . The De Francis, second richest sprint in the nation, drew 12 nominations, including Canada's 1991 champion, King Corrie, and one filly, Parisian Flight, shipping in from Louisiana.