Merengue tasty treat again for thankful 3 Higgins, Johnston, Barr win Thanksgiving stakes 2nd year in row at Laurel

November 27, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

For the second year in a row, the Thanksgiving stakes at Laurel Park belonged to the triumvirate of Higgins, Johnston and Barr.

That's Milton P. Higgins III, Mark Johnston and Donald Barr, the owner, jockey and trainer, respectively, of Merengue, who won the Anne Arundel Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park, and G. O'Keefe, who won the race one year ago.

Merengue captured the stakes for 3-year-old fillies by surging into the lead, relaxing down the backstretch and holding off all challengers. She covered 1 1/8 miles in 1 minute, 51 4/5 seconds and earned $60,000 of the $100,000 purse.

For her backers at the betting windows she returned a whopping $47 to win. A winner of five races in 12 tries, she and most of her compatriots were overlooked because of the presence of Manoa, a filly owned by Stuart S. Janney III, who lives in Butler in Baltimore County.

Because of solid performances against top fillies in New York, Manoa broke from the starting gate as the 3-5 favorite. That was, of course, after she entered the gate, which she clearly didn't want to do.

She wouldn't go in until her jockey, Edgar Prado, hopped off. And when she finally stepped in and broke she wouldn't relax. Struggling for control, Prado couldn't keep her out of trouble on the first turn. By the time he asked for her late run around the far turn, she was wide and pretty well spent. She finished third.

Manoa probably wasn't going to catch Merengue anyway. The Broad Brush filly calmly controlled the pace, strolling alone on the lead in 48 4/5 seconds for the first half-mile.

"She likes it on the front end like that," said Johnston, her rider.

"A slow pace like that makes a lot of difference," added Barr, her trainer.

Higgins, her owner, was thinking of retiring her. Since winning the Twixt Stakes in July at Laurel Park, Merengue had finished no better than fourth.

Higgins even booked a breeding after the new year to Polish Numbers. But now, with a graded-stakes win in the books, motherhood might be deferred.

"This definitely changes things," Barr said. "We're hoping for big things to happen now."

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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