Mark Johnston sustained his winning touch and strengthened his position as Laurel's leading rider with three victories yesterday, one astride a King Leatherbury reclamation project named Wild Kid.

Making much of the final two weeks in his apprenticeship, Johnston's productive afternoon left him with eight winners in 13 tries over the past two days and pushed him closer to his second straight meet title. He has a 34-26 lead over Joe Rocco, his closest chaser.

Johnston's final mount of the day was in the ninth aboard Wild Kid, a stagnant claimer until Leatherbury got a hold of him. The 4-year-old had won one of 17 starts primarily against weak competition; under Leatherbury he is three for six, with yesterday's $12,600 purse his largest.

Wild Kid was a well-bandaged, awkward-moving horse when Leatherbury claimed him for $12,000, and he's still that way -- he just moves a lot faster. He forged past favored Allthathecouldsee and Philosophical on the outside in the stretch, and held on as the rallying Gronwohld became trapped inside late.

"I tried to lay down on them and tighten everything up," said Johnston, whose 237 victories lead all U.S. jockeys this year. "You're not supposed to give the cake away."

As for Wild Kid, he said: "He doesn't really know how to travel. He's a funny mover, but he gets it done."

Double Triple Grows

The double-triple carryover topped $100,000 for the first time this meet as the first-half combination of 4-8-10 produced only one winning ticket, worth $14,807. The pool is $107,008 going into today's program.

Today's fifth race brings a glint of opportunity after three withdrawals trimmed the field to nine. Racing secretary Larry Abbundi was loath to grant the scratches, but Maryland rules require only nine starters in triple races.

"It's not a good situation to be in, especially when you reach this kind of money with the double triple," Abbundi said. "With the scratch rule being down to nine, there's nothing you can do."

Abbundi writes the races and chooses which two will constitute the double triple, the third and fifth races on each program. He generally selects horses of lesser experience and quality -- they're more difficult to handicap -- but said that the July 4 holiday and other 11-race programs have thinned those ranks.

During warmer months he'll sometimes use a turf race, which is the case today, with 12 nonwinners going 1 1/16 miles in the third race.

Anyone who correctly picks the top three finishers in that race will have only nine older horses to scrutinize in the fifth race, thanks to the withdrawals. According to Abbundi, Neo Geo was scratched because his management predicted a muddy track, which the colt apparently disdains; Bobcarol Tednalice was said to be sick, and Shelter's Gone was entered in another race Saturday. . . .

Arlington Park announced that representatives of six horses have accepted invitations to the Arlington Challenge Cup, whose focus is a rematch between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. Criminal Type, who has beaten both, is headed for the Aug. 4 race along with Opening Verse, Mi Selecto and Santangelo.

Pimlico and Laurel plan to simulcast the 1 1/4-mile race.