Entertain was about 18 lengths off the lead after a well-paced half-mile of yesterday's $55,775 Harrison E. Johnson Handicap at Laurel. And his jockey, Vince (Jimbo) Bracciale Jr., was delighted.

In his previous two races, the stretch-running Entertain had been victimized by an exceptionally slow pace, finishing second each time. Yesterday, with Baldski's Choice setting legitimate fractions, Entertain saved ground early, rallied wide into the stretch and defeated Due North by 1 1/2 lengths. American Dream, least-regarded of the nine runners at 30 to 1, had the lead turning for home before weakening to third.

Charlie Hadry has been one of the most proficient trainers this Laurel meet, winning 28 percent of the time, but even he felt frustrated after watching a slow pace undermine each of Entertain's last two races.

"You can do everything right bringing a horse up to a race," Hadry said. "But once they leave the paddock, you don't always know what to expect."

Baldski's Choice broke fastest in the 1 1/8-mile race but was pressured by Coastal Illusion and 6-to-5 favorite Entitled To.

With that competition, Baldski's Choice went a quarter-mile in 23 4/5 seconds and a half-mile in 47 2/5. That gave him a nearly two-length lead on Entitled To, with Coastal Illusion beginning to lose ground.

By the far turn, Entitled To was tiring, and Baldski's Choice led by three lengths. But within a half-furlong, the lead vanished.

Santos Chavez sent American Dream surging to the front, while Mike Hunter rallied Due North. As Due North overtook the gray long shot, Entertain rallied on the outside. He easily went past Due North, finishing in 1:51 3/5 on a good track.

Entertain's victory came as a mild surprise to many in the crowd of 9,926 -- he paid $20.80 -- but not to Bracciale. "I know what this horse can do," Bracciale said. "I'm just glad we got a chance to show everybody else."