One horse rekindled an old flame yesterday at Laurel, and another lit the way toward the future.
Shy Tom, a once-productive 3-year-old who had floundered the past year, won the $162,950 Baltimore Breeders' Cup with a hard-fought neck decision over Doc's Leader. Earlier on the program, Devilish Touch debuted with an easy victory in the $37,600 Toddler Breeders' Cup Stakes.
Although the Baltimore Breeders' Cup was Laurel's richest race this meeting, it contained only five horses once Notation defected. That gave the usually underestimated Flaming Emperor a new role as the favorite, and at 9-10 he got stuck in the mud.
Jockey Clarence "Jo Jo" Ladner said he didn't like the way the 1 1/8-mile unfolded; outside-most Flaming Emperor was taken wide into the first turn as four ran abreast. At that point, jockey Mario Pino pulled back on rail-running Shy Tom to let the three other lead-seekers go on.
"Once I knew I couldn't outrun them, I just kind of sat there," Pino said.
That gave Finder's Choice inside position among the front runners, but he began to wither well into the backstretch, leaving Doc's Leader and Flaming Emperor on the lead.
They remained locked through the far turn, but at the top of the lane Flaming Emperor began to fall back. While Overnight Hero could not sustain his wide rally into the stretch, Pino pointed Shy Tom inside, and the 4-year-old began charging along the rail. He caught Doc's Leader with less than a furlong left, got a slight advantage soon thereafter and narrowly held it in 1:49 3/5, Pino's third winner on the card and seventh in three days.
It was another victory for Wayne Lukas, who leads U.S. trainers in purses year after year. The $107,970 payoff, which included a Breeders' Cup bonus, put Shy Tom over $500,000.
Although Devilish Touch's published workouts were not extraordinary going into the Toddler, her precocity was well-known. She went off the 13-10 favorite and under Joe Rocco produced the lowest win mutuel of the day, $4.60.
Rocco's status became a bit clouded Friday afternoon after a horse unseated him in the third-race post parade. But agent Tom Hauer was determined to have his jockey ready for yesterday's program, if for no other reason than to ride Devilish Touch.
"She's a freak," Hauer said, and Devilish Touch showed what he meant.
As the eight 2-year-old fillies walked onto the track, the sky grew dark, the wind whipped and rain fell. Then Devilish Touch made a thundering debut.
She broke a bit lazily from Post 2, but within a few strides was dragging Rocco to the lead along the rail. After a quarter-mile in 22 1/5 seconds she led by 3 1/2 lengths, and thereafter her power was never in question. Rocco didn't raise his whip as the filly completed 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:05 2/5 on a good track. She crossed the wire more than four lengths ahead of Proangle, another Carlos Garcia-trained filly who ran as a separate betting interest.
"We were going to keep her off the pace, but she's just that much better," said Rocco, operating with a bruised left heel. "She's for real."
Gala Goldilocks, 2-1 as part of a Bernie Bond entry, closed well for third after rearing and falling in the paddock.
By 1983 juvenile champion Devil's Bag, Devilish Touch was a $145,000 yearling buy at Keeneland, according to co-owner Jerry Roth of Burning Tree Farm.
Trainer Garcia didn't see the race. He was at Monmouth Park, watching Valay Maid finish second in the Monmouth Oaks.