It took perhaps the nation's best-known jockey to steal into Maryland yesterday and grab the spotlight from the nation's winningest jockey.
Pat Day, who flew in from Chicago, rode 4-5 favorite Pyramid Peak, the defending champion, to a gate-to-wire victory in the $206,200 Grade III Baltimore Breeders' Cup at Laurel Park. Edgar Prado, the local rider who leads the country in wins, finished last aboard Western Echo.
Pyramid Peak sprung into the lead from the No. 1 post, hugged the rail throughout the 1 1/8 -mile race and drew away down the stretch from his nearest challenger, Wild Deputy. And the 5-year-old son of Mt. Livermore dominated the competitive field of six older horses with a screw in his shin.
"He's had some bad luck," said his trainer, John T. Ward Jr., who made the trip from Keeneland, Ky. "But he's completely matured now. Hopefully, he's over those kind of things."
As a 3-year-old, Pyramid Peak finished 17th in the Kentucky Derby, but he won the Flamingo Stakes and finished second in the Haskell Invitational and Travers. Then he fractured his left front shin and missed nine months.
In his second start as a 4-year-old, he won last year's Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap with an identical gate-to-wire performance. But late in the year he fractured the same shin again -- in a different place. This time a surgeon inserted a screw into the bone.
"He's a horse who runs very hard," Ward said. "So he's susceptible to those kind of stress injuries. But we think we've got him back now. We think he's one of the best handicap horses in the country."
Day rode Pyramid Peak for the first time in his comeback effort this year, a 6 1/2 -furlong allowance race a month ago at Churchill Downs. He finished third. Yesterday, the game runner registered his seventh victory in his injury-marred 17-race career.
"We thought there was speed in the race," said Day, hurrying to the airport for a return flight to Chicago, where he's riding at Arlington International Race Course. "But we decided just to let him run from the gate and see how the race developed."
It developed into a game of "cat-and-mouse," Day said, as Pyramid Peak controlled the pace with Wild Deputy on his bumper and Tam's Armada and Marys Buckaroo farther back in the rear-view mirror. But as they approached the finish line, no one threatened to pass Pyramid Peak.
"It was a very big effort," Day said.
Day said he hopes to be aboard when Pyramid Peak makes his next start Aug. 2 in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga against older standouts such as Skip Away.
Before yesterday's feature race -- also part of the MATCH series -- Day and local jockeys signed autographs and posed for pictures as part of Jockeys Across America Day. At 80 North American tracks, jockeys raised money to assist injured jockeys and exercise riders.
At Laurel Park, 13 local jockeys raced in potato sacks on the turf course. With a headfirst dive and roll across the finish line, Francisco "Kid" Maysonett triumphed.
Edgar "Iron Man" Prado pulled up well before the finish. Potato sacks must not be his thing. But by winning one more race -- 256 for the year -- he demonstrated again that horses are.
Pub Date: 7/06/97