Horse racing's theme is cycles of history, and another cycle was nearly completed yesterday at Laurel Park.
After Eastover Faith devoured his opposition in the $75,000 Damascus Handicap, his trainer, King T. Leatherbury, said the colt's next race would probably be the Taking Risks Handicap on Sept. 5 at Timonium.
Baird Brittingham, part owner of Eastover Faith, also owned Taking Risks. In 1994, the hard-knocking horse won the Grade I Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park and several stakes in Maryland, including the Maryland Million Classic.
"It would mean a lot to me to win the Taking Risks, because Taking Risks meant so much," said Brittingham, a resident of Wilmington, Del., and former chairman of the board and president of Delaware Park.
A Maryland-bred son of Eastover Court and Blind Faith, Eastover Faith towered over his four challengers after the Damascus was shifted to the dirt because of soggy turf. That shift prompted the defection of three horses, including the probable favorite Grapeshot.
Eastover Faith dragged his jockey Mark Johnston to the lead down the backstretch, and then the 4-year-old charcoal-colored colt drew away for a seven-length victory. He completed the 1 1/16 miles in 1 minute, 45.96 seconds and returned $5.40 as the 8-5 favorite.
"He is one tough horse to rate or get to relax or whatever you want to call it," Johnston said. "He was pulling me out of the saddle. He wanted to go. He felt good. He knows he's the king."
Speaking of King, Leatherbury joked about how long it'd been since he'd won a stakes race in Maryland. The dominant trainer here from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s, Leatherbury is one of the winningest trainers in racing history.
"The last stakes win I had was 22 years ago," he said, "at least that's what it seems like."
According to the Laurel Park publicity office, the last stakes Leatherbury won in Maryland was the Conniver in 1996 with Julie's Brilliance. Why the long drought?
"It's just the law of probability," Leatherbury said.
In January 1998, he claimed Eastover Faith for $25,000 for Lakeville Stables, a partnership of Brittingham and Dan Lufkin, who lives in New York City. Since then the strikingly handsome colt has won four of eight races for his new connections.
The wins came on the dirt. Eastover Faith raced on the turf for the first time July 25 at Laurel Park, finishing a close third. Leatherbury said that after the Taking Risks, a 1 1/6-mile stakes on dirt, he would send the colt back to the turf.
By then, Brittingham should be married. He posed in the winner's circle with his finance, Roberta Farrell. They're to be married next month.
As Brittingham talked about that date, he brought up one final link in the cycles of racing history. Taking Risks won the Iselin on Aug. 21, 1994. Yesterday, when Eastover Faith won the Damascus, it was Aug. 21 all over again. So it goes, and so it goes.