Filly Maria's Tiara wore headgear adorned with a religious medal as she made a spirited run to win the Lady Baltimore Stakes on the turf at Laurel Park yesterday.

But owner M. Virginia Friedman wouldn't credit the medal or the rosary beads she clutched in her hand for the 1 1/4-length victory.

"I always carry rosary beads, not just on race day," Friedman said as a large group of friends, family and stable workers celebrated the victory.

Maria's Tiara is one of five horses out of the mare High Born Miss that have been bred by Friedman and her husband, John Friedman, who trains the family's animals. All the fillies, she said, are named Maria to signify the family's religious leanings. Now 4 years old, Maria's Tiara is the only one of the five the Friedmans are currently running, and she is stabled out of the family's single stall at Bowie Training Center.

Coming out of the gates in the 1 1/8 mile Lady Baltimore Stakes, jockey Mark Johnston let the other entries duel for the lead while he kept Maria's Tiara well off the rail and several lengths off the pace.

Of the early front-runners, Johnston said, only the 5-year-old The Unforgiven, winner of the $75,000 Penn Distaff Handicap at Penn National last month and the leading money winner on turf of the nine entries in the Lady Baltimore Stakes, gave Johnston worries. So when the field headed into the stretch with The Unforgiven in front by about a length on the inside, Johnston decided it was time to turn Maria's Tiara loose. She drove between The Unforgiven and longshot Romantic Notions to take the lead and quickly assumed control of the race.

Betting favorite Inside Affair, with Rick Wilson aboard, tried to draft off Maria's Tiara as she made her charge, but never threatened to take the lead.

Maria's Tiara finished in 1 minute 47 2/5 seconds and paid $7.60.

"She made it easy," Johnston said. "When I called on her, she ran her butt off. I tapped her on the shoulder but she really didn't need it, and I won in hand."

Johnston also said he was glad leading jockey Edgar Prado decided to spend all of August racing at Saratoga, thereby leaving classy mounts like Maria's Tiara available for riders like himself.

"I told Edgar I'd pay his rent if he'd go to New York," said Johnston, who also won with two other mounts yesterday, "and he took the money."