And they're off, slowly, at Laurel

January 31, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

The track was heavy and muddy at Laurel Race Course yesterday, but at least it was in good enough shape to conduct live racing.

For the first time since Tuesday, Laurel ran its live program after a string of three cancellations. Due to severe weather conditions, the track lost a total of 10 live cards in a three-week period.

Mark Johnston, a 23-year-old jockey from Lebanon, Ky., excelled on the card, winning three races, including both stakes.

"The track got better as the day went along," Johnston said. "It got colder and as it did, the track tightened up. The rail was the best place to be."

Johnston hugged the inside with Lakeville Stables' Buffels in the $53,625 Maryland Racing Writers' Handicap, cruising to a four-length win over favored Stem The Tide.

He followed that by coming off the pace with New York entrant Imah in the Toes Knows Stakes, defeating pace-setter Miss Importance by two lengths.

Laurel general manager John E. Mooney said that training was delayed about an hour yesterday morning. "But once it was determined that there was some substance underneath the water on the track and that there was no ice left, horses got out on the strip about 7 a.m. and we realized we could run," Mooney said.

King Leatherbury, trainer of the winning Buffels, said the surface was deep and tiring during morning training hours, "but is was surprisingly fast for the races. It has a firm bottom to it."

Jockeys Mario Pino and Larry Reynolds said horses were hitting the bottom of the track and head state veterinarian, David Zipf, said he was concerned many of the horses were running down (scraping their heels).

"But it's a situation where we've been off a long time and we've got to run if we can," Reynolds said.

For about the fifth time this winter, handle on out-of-state simulcasts exceeded wagering on the live races. An estimated $772,000 was bet yesterday on televised races from Gulfstream, Philadelphia and Santa Anita parks. The handle on the live Laurel card amounted to $684,978.

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