Big Punt seeks his fourth straight victory and his eighth of the season as the 123-pound topweight in a field of nine Maryland-bred 3-year-olds in the $30,400 E. Taylor Chewning Handicap Saturday at Laurel Race Course.
The mile event features the closing program of the track's 60-day fall meeting during which Laurel competitors Candy Eclair (in a tie with Iths In The Air), Spectacular Bid and Mac Diarmida captured national divisional champions. Ronnie Franklin was named the outstanding apprentice in the nation.
In the final two days of the session, a fifth national championship, the nation's leading trainer in number of victories, may be decided. Involved are King Leatherbury, who also is skirmising with Dickie Dutrow for leading trainer at Laurel, and Everett W. Hammond, who currently is based at Waterford Park in West Virginia.
Although Leatherbury also has entrants at Keystone and Penn National, he says he pins his best hopes on his Laurel runners, because "I have my own rider (Bill Passmore) and I don't have to ship." He will send horses to Keystone and Penn National on Sunday in an all-out effort to capture a second successive national title. His 322 victories enabled him to win the championship easily in 1977.
"I'm giving this title race everything I've got," said Leatherbury.
Remarking on the difficulty he and Hammond face in their two-man race, Leatherbury added, "Hammond has an advantage where he is racing. Waterford Park offers condition (restricted) races. My edge is that I can race a couple of horses at Penn National Sunday.
"Of course, Hammond can race Sunday, too, but I have preference stars, obtained by having entered horses from time to time, which will make it easier for my horses to get in."
Leatherbury said "This game gets tougher all the time. And Dutrow doesn't make it easier by taking all those young fellows and teaching them the game. Those youngsters then get their own patrons and become trainers. I don't teach anybody anything. My belief is that everybody has to learn for himself."
The "other" contender for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding apprentice, Tommy Kupfer, appears likely to head the Laurel jockey standings. Franklin, who left for Florida nearly two weeks ago, was in front until earlier this week. Kupfer's principal rival is Bill Nemeti.