Now that his baseball days are over, John Hartsell is showing Maryland trainers how to hit.

Hartsell improved his stance as Laurel's top percentage trainer yesterday, winning a career-best three races with four starters -- nearly half of his functioning stable. The performance brought congratulations from people Hartsell doesn't even know, and gave him a 58.8 winning percentage this meet (10 for 17); for any trainer, 30 percent is considered outstanding.

"I never even get three horses {entered} in one day, let alone win three," Hartsell said. "I mean, I only have 10 horses that can run right now."

A star pitcher for the University of Maryland in the late 1970s, Hartsell has become one of the circuit's most reliable winners since he began training thoroughbreds 16 months ago. He has a strong hold on second place this session and is only two victories shy of the prodigious King Leatherbury, who has happened to run 66 more horses.

Hartsell's efficacy has not gone unnoticed. Of yesterday's three winners, L'Enjobeau brought the greatest win mutuel -- $6.40. The freshly claimed Chester Peekin paid $4.60 in taking a $6,500 claimer, and In The Navy held on for a starter-allowance triumph over Braddock Heights in a race noteworthy for its laggard pace. Edgar Prado rode all three winners, plus a fourth on yesterday's card.

In The Navy returned $2.80 as the day's strongest favorite and has won seven races and more than $40,000 since Hartsell claimed him for $5,000 in June.

Hartsell's only miss came with Grand Colony's sixth-place finish in the ninth-race allowance feature, in which Thirtyeightexpress won his fourth straight and paid $21.40.

Mitchell Sanctioned

The stewards ordered trainer Steward Mitchell to appear before the Maryland Racing Commission for sanctioning after one of his horses failed a drug test for the third time this year.

Mitchell, 73, was cited after Talent Dancer tested positive for furosemide, or Lasix, following a victory at Laurel Sept. 21. Although furosemide is widely used to control respiratory bleeding, Maryland rules prohibit its use on 2-year-olds.

Talent Dancer consequently was disqualified and his $7,800 purse for owner Birt Burbol rescinded. Mitchell's previous infractions this year both were for excessive amounts of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory medication. . . .

Although a final decision won't be made until next week, Northern Wolf appears headed for the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint, Hank Allen said yesterday.

Allen's main concern is Northern Wolf's inability to run on Lasix in the Sprint because New York forbids the medication. "It has to be in the back of your mind because you're guessing when you run them without it," he said. "But it looks like we'll probably take a shot at it." . . .

For the second straight year, nationally known racing announcer Dave Johnson will call both days of thoroughbred racing at Prince George's Equestrian Center, Oct. 24 and 31. Sports prognosticator Pete Axthelm will take part in the track's handicapping seminar Oct. 31. . . .

Laurel gained Maryland Racing Commission approval to run 12 live races Saturday. The track still has six races to make up following the Sept. 28 power outage.