A Lot of Mary too much for `Case' at Laurel

Top trainer Lake snares another win

Johnston heading north to ride

March 25, 2001|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

As the field dashed for home in the Conniver Stakes yesterday at Laurel Park, the jockey Mark Johnston hugged the rail on Case of the Blues, searching for running room.

He found it, but it wasn't enough. Case of the Blues fell a half-length short of A Lot of Mary, who won the $60,000 stakes of seven furlongs for older Maryland-bred fillies and mares. It was her 18th victory in 38 races.

For Johnston, a leading rider in Maryland for more than a decade, the search for running room will take him to Delaware Park when that track opens April 7. For the first time since late 1989, Johnston will be based somewhere other than Maryland.

He's relocating because of the lure of richer purses and the prospect of using Delaware as a springboard into the big time in New York, he said. He plans on riding in Maryland only on Delaware Park's dark days.

"I think I'm at the point in my career where it's time to try it," Johnston said.

Johnston, 30, has won several riding titles at Maryland tracks. In 1990, he won an Eclipse award as North America's top apprentice jockey. Last year, he won 336 races. Only four jockeys in the nation won more.

His effort on Case of the Blues did not earn another win, but it turned the spotlight to the talented victor. A 6-year-old mare with an impeccable record, A Lot of Mary races for Scott Lake, the winningest trainer on the continent.

"I thought I had a good shot to win it," Johnston said. "But those Scott Lake horses are tough to beat. I love riding for him, but I hate riding against him."

A Lot of Mary's victory capped an outstanding day for Lake, who trains 112 horses in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York. Lake won three races at Laurel and a fourth at Philadelphia Park. He also saddled a horse last night in a stakes at Charles Town.

In the winner's circle after the Conniver, Lake calculated that he's won 115 races this year. That puts him ahead of last year's pace of 336 victories, far more than any other trainer in North America.

"She's just been awesome," Lake said of A Lot of Mary, who has won 11 of 14 races under his tutelage. "She's done everything we've asked of her, and she keeps getting better."

Lake summoned Justin Kravets from Charles Town to ride A Lot of Mary. Kravets is the son of the trainer Bruce Kravets, for whom Lake worked as a groom at Penn National when he was 19.

"I babysat Justin since he was 3 years old," Lake said. "I call him `little brother,' and I call Bruce `my dad.' I got most of my experience working for him."

In Laurel's other stakes, the Dancing Count, a $55,350 race of six furlongs for 3-year-olds, Sea Of Green charged from last for a 1 1/2 -length victory. He has won four of 10 races for his Philadelphia Park trainer, Janis Gerace.

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