If the $100,000 Chrysanthemum Handicap had stayed on the Laurel turf course yesterday, trainer Dick Small might have scratched Tennis Lady.
But when the race was shifted to the main track, Small began to smell the mums.
"I don't think I would have run her on the grass," he said. "It was awfully soft. When the race was moved, I looked at the field and there were six horses that had never won on dirt and six that had never even run on dirt."
After all the scratching had ended -- nine of 14 in the original field did not run -- Tennis Lady had only four rivals left to contend with, and she came from just off the pace to score a two-length victory and capture the $60,000 winner's share.
It was the second consecutive stakes triumph for the 3-year-old daughter of Broad Brush, who is 5-for-10 lifetime. She captured the Grade III Martha Washington Stakes in her previous start.
After pace-setting Miss Otis "stopped," Tennis Lady's rider, Andrea Seefeldt "got kind of concerned that she [Tennis Lady] ** would lose interest. But she didn't."
The only challenge came from favored Mz. Zill Bear, a multi-stakes winner who launched a rally on the outside, but couldn't get close enough when Seefeldt urged her mount for the first time in the 1 1/8 -mile race.
"My horse just started looking around," said the jockey. "But she really picked it up when Mz. Zill Bear came at us."
Miss Otis, the pacesetter for six furlongs, faded to third, sixth lengths behind the runner-up. Jockey Walter Guerra said she "ran OK. No excuse. But I don't know about her on turf."
Robert Meyerhoff's Tennis Lady is one of the more versatile horses in Small's strong stable. She has won short, long, on grass and on the dirt.
In her only bad outing about a year ago, she finished seventh, beaten more than 33 lengths, in a six-furlong allowance race.
"To this day, I can't explain that race," said Small. "It might have been the first time on Lasix, but I don't really know what happened.
"She's a real good filly. All these Broad Brush horses are real honest. They all try hard. It's terrific to have his foals doing well. That doesn't always happen."
Seefeldt was a little worried before yesterday's stakes because that race was run in similar conditions.
Tennis Lady covered the distance in 1 minute, 52 1/5 seconds while hitting the board for the ninth time.
It was the second victory on the eight-race live card for the Small-Seefeldt team. Seefeldt also guided Bless Me Twice ($6.60) to the winner's circle for owner Sally M. Gibson in the fourth race.
* The track record holder at the Chrysanthemum distance, Finder's Choice, has been retired and will stand at stud at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City.
Finder's Choice set the 1 1/8 -mile mark at 1:46 on Oct. 24, 1992. He was originally retired to stud late last year but returned to the track.
Trained by Charlie Hadry, Finder's Choice won 15 of 56 career starts and earned more than $600,000.
NOTES: Leading rider Edgar Prado took off his mounts yesterday to be with his wife Lilliana after the birth of their first daughter. None of his original mounts won under different jockeys. . . . Leading trainer King Leatherbury saddled back-to-back winners in the fifth (Thirty Eight Kimbo) and sixth (Buffels). He has a 17-11 lead over Dale Capuano. . . . Laurel will offer simulcast wagering only today with Aqueduct, Philadelphia Park, Calder and Santa Anita on the schedule. Live racing resumes Tuesday. . . . Stelios Art scored his seventh win of 1993 in the second race. He has been on the board in 14 of 18 tries this year.