Jockey Mark Johnston decided not to take any chances on the flight home from San Francisco. So he brought the horse aboard.

First, he wrapped it in plastic, then folded it inside a shirt and packed it into a travel bag that he carried onto the plane. "I wasn't going to let it go through shipping," he said. Now he will find a suitable place in his home to display the bronze statuette that is maybe a foot tall. It's the Eclipse Award.

Johnston considered himself the favorite to win it Saturday, but sitting through the awards ceremony at the Fairmont Hotel was unnerving, he said. Especially after seeing the other finalists, Vann Belvoir and Paul Toscano, at the banquet.

"There's always that uncertainty," he said. "Who knows? If it had been close going in, I might have passed out or something."

Johnston, 20, resumed riding at Laurel yesterday after a weekend off, during which he was awarded the Eclipse as North America's outstanding apprentice jockey of 1990. He led the country with 249 victories before his apprenticeship ended July 29 and finished the year with 328, second overall to Pat Day.

Johnston says the honor won't change his perspective on riding, but he's hoping it will enhance perceptions of his ability.

He is known as a patient, judicious rider -- receiving only two suspensions in his two-year career for careless riding -- but wants to dispel some notions that his basic approach means he's overly cautious.

"I think some people tend to think that, but. . . . I've gotten more aggressive as far as not letting 'em through on the inside. And if I've got someone in my pocket {with no running room}, I keep them there. I know where that fine line is."

Johnston's fourth-race victory astride Sharland yesterday means he's had at least one winner at Laurel each of the past 12 days he's ridden here.

Lining Up for Saturday

The fields are taking shape for Saturday's General George Stakes and Barbara Fritchie Handicap, and some nationally known jockeys are making plans to be at Laurel for the $200,000 races.

In terms of graded stakes winners, the Fritchie looks to be the stronger of the two at this point (entries will be drawn Thursday). Highweighted Stormy But Valid won't make it because of illness, but Desert Orchid has arrived from California, where she won the Grade I Santa Monica Stakes. She would carry a race-high 118 pounds along with Feel The Beat, Aqueduct's Interboro Handicap winner who will be ridden by Jose Santos.

Angel Cordero Jr. is scheduled to pilot Fappaburst, who finished two lengths behind Feel The Beat in their latest meeting.

Wayne Lukas will send Feel The Beat from New York, and he'll also ship Profit Key from California for the General George. After finishing second to Housebuster in the Withers Stakes last spring, Profit Key won the Peter Pan and Dwyer, but hasn't been better than fifth in three subsequent starts.

Santos has the mount on Profit Key, while Julie Krone was named to ride True and Blue, a handicap winner from New York. Maryland-based Fire Plug is likely, and Bet the Pot has returned from a stakes win in Kentucky to run in the seven-furlong race. . . .

Amandare had a typical afternoon yesterday, then took a different route home.

The 7-year-old won his third straight race -- and 24th of 62 overall -- by wearing down Wooden Injun in the last half-dozen strides. He didn't return to Spencer Bumgardner's barn, however, after Dale Capuano claimed him for $25,000.