Minutes after Ceviche finished a nose short of victory in the final race at Rosecroft Raceway July 29, his driver, Steve Warrington, was handed an envelope. Warrington slipped it into his pocket and didn't open it until he got back to the locker room. There, the walls seemed to crash in on his career, at least temporarily.

In the letter, track management ordered Warrington barred from participating in races at Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs, both owned by Mark Vogel, but did not specify why. The track was under no obligation to explain itself to Warrington, a principle that had been upheld several times in court.

So Warrington, a respected horseman and one of Maryland's leading drivers the past few years, cleared out his Rosecroft stable a week ago Tuesday and returned to his farm in Galena, Md. But this past Monday, Warrington was told, via a fax to his attorney, that his exclusion had effectively been lifted, allowing him to race at Delmarva immediately and at Rosecroft on Aug. 20.

Over the past two decades, a number of states have upheld racetracks' absolute power to exclude individuals from their premises based on private property rights, provided race, color or creed are not involved. Some courts, however, have become more restrictive about upholding exclusionary powers in jurisdictions with a racing monopoly -- such as Maryland -- ruling that tracks cannot "arbitrarily" banish persons who would have no recourse. Because Vogel owns Maryland's only two harness tracks, Warrington effectively was barred from racing in his home state until Monday's reversal.

Despite his reinstatement, Warrington is not about to drop the issue. A hearing is scheduled today in Prince George's Circuit Court over his contention that he should be allowed back at Rosecroft immediately. His attorney, William Renahan, will request an injunction from Judge Graydon McKee.

"The real issue in this case is who can make the decision as to who to exclude," said Renahan. "The problem you have in this state is that it's a monopoly."

Rosecroft officials have declined to comment on reasons for the original exclusion, which apparently did not stem from a racing-related infraction because the track judges were not involved. General Manager Jim Murphy said he initiated and authorized the expulsion order, having discussed it with Vogel.

Murphy said on Monday that in the letter telling Warrington he would be allowed back, he was told the exclusion would be lifted if, when he returned to Rosecroft, his words, deeds and activities would not threaten, undermine or intimidate the racing officials or racing office.Warrington and Perkins

Warrington, third in victories and first in winning percentage among the most active Maryland drivers, said before the track reversed itself that he had done nothing wrong. "I'm not going to be caught switching stories," he said, "because there are no stories to switch."

Warrington, 38, has had differences with Racing Secretary Billy Perkins, but he said those were secondary in his dismissal. Warrington acknowledged that he voiced displeasure with the way Perkins chose to classify and handicap his horses in particular races but said, "I think the problems between me and Perkins were typical of the problems between a horseman and a racing secretary."

Perkins, who began calling races at Rosecroft in 1970 and later became racing secretary, said he did not bring about Warrington's exclusion. "It looks like I did, but I don't have that kind of power," he said. "It was a management decision." However, he also said, "Everybody on the grounds knows the way he has spoken to me."

Warrington believes his position as a director of the Maryland Standardbred Horsemen's Association was more damaging than his disputes with Perkins.

The MSHA, of which Warrington is treasurer and an active spokesman, was founded about three months ago by drivers, trainers and owners who were largely dissatisfied with the effectiveness of the Cloverleaf Standardbred Owners Association, which represents Maryland's harness horsemen. Warrington said Rosecroft management views the MSHA as an antagonist group and tried to thwart it by going after his stable, one of the circuit's most productive.

"That's completely untrue," Vogel said. "I don't care if there are 20 groups. That's absolutely ludicrous."

"We're not a bunch of rebels, but that's the way we got labeled from the start," Warrington said. "We have an interest in protecting the industry, not hurting it; it's our livelihood. Everything I have, I got from harness racing. But I've also been busted up bad four or five times. I've had my neck broken, my back broken, my knee torn in half. I've got no hearing in my left ear because of a spill. About a year ago, I said, 'I've paid my dues. I'm going to speak up and say what's wrong or right with this industry,' and it cost me."

Murphy's decision last week to exclude him represented somewhat of a change in policy for Rosecroft management. Earlier this year, Murphy reinstated trainer Earl Wagner and driver Phil Laframboise -- both of whom had been excluded under predecessor Bill Miller. "I find {excluding persons} difficult without giving them their due process," Murphy said at the time. "It's a question of fairness. If I'm going to err, I've got to err on the side of being fair."

Vogel said the decision to bar Warrington was Murphy's. "He calls the shots," Vogel said. "He did clear it with me. I guess if I was 100 percent against it he might not do it, but I respect his decision."

Warrington's exclusion was the first by Murphy, who replaced Miller last fall as president and general manager after Miller fell out of favor with Vogel.

"I'm not knocking Bill Miller, but unless you know somebody's guilty, you've got to be careful," Vogel said after hiring Murphy. "You're messing with their livelihoods. I left {reinstatement} up to {Murphy}. When we sat down, it was one of our big issues. I felt uncomfortable being judge and jury. . . . One mistake or two mistakes doesn't make you an outlaw for life. That was a philosophical difference" between him and Miller.

Miller defended his decisions to exclude, saying in each instance he acted to combat the perception of wrongdoing. "My basic management premise was that, to attract new fans, racing must change," Miller said recently. "First and foremost it must address the negative public perception concerning its integrity. That's what the exclusions were about."

Miller also said the late post position draw, a short-lived innovation begun in Maryland last year, was instituted primarily to promote diligent effort by drivers. At the time, horses breaking from outside post positions were at a strong disadvantage, which might lead a driver to assume a loss and save the horse for its next race. The late draw kept post positions a mystery until minutes before the race, reducing a driver's chance to plan ahead.

Two of Miller's later exclusions were Laframboise and Wagner. Less than three months after Murphy reinstated them, Laframboise was suspended for failing to give sufficient effort in a drive, and a Wagner horse tested positive for a drug not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Warrington said last week he had been unjustifiably branded an offender after years of commitment to the Maryland circuit and more than 2,000 winners overall.

"I'm a firm believer we've got to have laws or we aren't going to get anywhere in this country," Warrington said before the exclusion was reversed. "But what's happening here is a little scary: If you walk the wrong way, they can get rid of you, hurt your reputation, damage your livelihood."There's a Scare in the Air

The Warrington incident sent strains of nervousness through the Rosecroft backstretch.

Gary Cameron, a trainer who met Warrington at Liberty Bell Park in 1980, said last week: "Being barred for no reason scares the hell out of me. Steve's a well-respected horseman, always has been. He runs a clean outfit. When you throw the {third-} leading driver off the grounds, what are people going to think about us? That could scare the public a little too. They might think it could be for gambling reasons or whatever, but Steve's not that way at all."

"This is killing me," Warrington said last week, "but what shocked me the most is that . . . not one person had the guts enough to look me in the eye, man to man, and tell me I was barred from racing in my home state. That's what hurt more than anything."

Special correspondent Jack Nowakowski contributed to this report.