The racing strip was a light-brown meringue at Laurel yesterday, marking the 13th straight program to be presented on a muddy or sloppy surface. Twenty-four of the 40 cards at the meeting have been run in other-than-fast footing.
"How much rain can you take?" the racing secretary asked aloud as he card despite a forecast that included the possibility of snow.
A few hours later, in the paddock, trainer Bernie Bond described the track as bad. But what can they do about it, considering all the rain we've had lately?" Buddy Delp walked by, after sending out a filly for the second race, and disagreed with Bond.
"It's not really bad now out there," Delp offered, "but it will be time to start worrying if the cold goes down to 15 degrees tonight, as predicted, and the track freezes."
Delp had just saddled La Nijinska, a $232,000 [WORD ILLEGIBLE] purchase. The crowd of 6,211 bet the beautifully bred 2-year-old daughter of Nijinsky II and Street Dancer down to 6 to 5 despite the trainer's comment, "She's not a sprinter," and yesterday's distance for La Nijinska's first start was six furlongs, a dash.
La Nijinska ran to Delp's declaration, finishing fourth in the field of 10, thereby helping to set the stage for the biggest daily-double return in Laurel history.
Couronne De Fer won the second race by a length at odds of 50 to 1. Moseley, a 24-to-1 shot, had been placed first in the opening sprint after Jim Wallace was disqualified from victory by the stewards. The 6-10 daily double combination returned $4,507.40 to nine $2 ticket-holders.
Laurel's previous high was $3,527.80, set by a couple of nags named Devotedly and Diana Lee Oct. 13, 1949.
Couronne was making her first start. The filly's only claim to fame, until yesterday, was that her owner is T.P. Whitney of Connecticut, known in literary circles as the English translator for Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Whitney no longer thinks very highly of Solzhenitsyn, a source close to Couronne De Fer volunteered. "No jockey is a hero to a jockey's agent; well, not author is a hero to his translator," the source said.
So much for Solzhenitsyn, Whitney and record daily doubles. Much bigger payoffs have been posted at Pimlico and Bowie.
The names of Moseley and Couronne De Fer were, not surprisingly, absent from Stable Boy's tip sheet, yesterday. They were not exactly the betting favorites, and Stable Boy had been doing well, Stable Boy said, partly because the results at the meeting had been so formful.
"The big fish have been eating up the little fish, as usual," the tipster noted, adding. "I think it's partly because, on all these off tracks, the big trainers are going to stckers or mud too costly for the more marginal trainers to afford the reshoeing."
Maybe so. In any case, favorites keep winning at an extra-high rate at Laurel no matter how fast or slow the racing strip may be. The only thing the rain seems to have accomplished is to restrict the number of workouts in the morning.
"Only about half as many horses work when the track's muddy," informed Frank Robinson, the clocker for Daily Racing Form."I don't understand it myself. If a horse is going to run in it, you'd think the horsemen would want them to work in it, or at least gallop in it. But many of them don't send them out. I guess they're afraid of breaking down or something."
Or something. Despite everything, Laurel continues on its way toward another successful season. The parimutuel handle last Saturday was $1,731,174, the largest - except for International days - in three years.
The more they float the track, the more the track's business floats right along. Maybe it's because area fans realize they have less than a month left until Bowie opens.