Another rider's return generated far more fanfare on opening day of Laurel Park's fall meeting, but jockey Thomas Turner didn't let that spoil his own homecoming.
Turner, now a regular on the New Jersey racing circuit, came back to the track where his career began and rode the filly Superduper Miss to victory yesterday in the $150,000 Stormy Blues Breeders' Cup, the first stakes race of the season.
Turner was an apprentice in Maryland in 1989, and, after losing his bug, rode at Pimlico and Laurel Park until 1995. He still owns a house in Laurel, but now calls Monmouth Park his home track.
Superduper Miss is also stabled at Monmouth, and was one of four entrants in the Stormy Blues Breeders' Cup field to make the trip down from New Jersey for the race. According to Turner, he had his pick of the shippers, three of whom he'd ridden before.
He took the reins on Superduper Miss in the six-furlong sprint based on her performance in the Dearly Precious Stakes at Monmouth in July, when despite a horrible start she hauled Turner across the finish line in first place.
"I chose her because she showed so much heart getting to the wire first in that race," Turner said.
The Florida-bred filly had a much easier time getting to the winner's circle this time out. She broke from the gate cleanly, and Turner kept her off the rail several lengths behind early leader Knot So Clever.
Leaving the turn, Knot So Clever began showing signs of wear.
Turner steered his mount around the closing pacesetter, then held on as Superduper Miss thwarted a late charge from another Florida-bred, Godmother. At the wire, it was Superduper Miss by a head over Godmother.
Superduper Miss finished in 1 minute 10 1/5 seconds, and paid $8.60.
"I don't get back here enough," said Turner after the race. On the trip from the winner's circle back to the jockeys room, several old acquaintances shouted his name, while others offered congratulations by reaching over the railing and patting him on the shoulders.
Fans also shouted support throughout the day for another visitor, Edgar Prado. The perennial Maryland riding champion left the state this summer for the New York circuit, and is now among the leading riders at Belmont.
Prado thanked the crowd for their well wishes over the track's public address system early in the card. But despite the feel-good vibe coming from the grandstand, Prado's day didn't go quite so well on the track.
None of his six mounts won, and his ride in the feature, Lady Cruella, finished dead last in the field of eight.
Note: Live racing will continue at Laurel Park on a Wednesday to Sunday schedule through early April, then move to Pimlico for the Preakness meeting.