The gelding John's Call turned in a performance worthy of the field's oldest and most veteran turf horse in winning the $100,000 Laurel Turf Cup yesterday at Laurel Park.

John's Call swept wide around Pay Zone and 104-1 long shot Modest Girl, hitting the top of the stretch in front by more than a length. Widening his lead over the final furlong, John's Call hit the wire in 2 minutes 33 2/5 seconds, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of another strong closer, Brightwood. Pay Zone and Modest Girl finished third in a dead heat.

"The horse is like a bottle of wine: He's getting better with age," jockey Steve Hamilton said.

Thomas Voss, owner and trainer of the 8-year-old, Kentucky-bred horse, said John's Call ended up in his stable by mistake.

"I bought a weanling named Stewart's Affair," Voss said of his $4,500 purchase. "But when we got the horse shipped up and ready to run . . . we're told that the horse we have isn't Stewart's Affair. We had John's Call. Turns out the guy I bought him from had two chestnut weanlings that looked alike, and he sent me the wrong horse. Thank God he did."

John's Call didn't spend much time at the track during his first five years, because of injuries and Voss's dabbling in steeplechase events. But in the last three years, John's Call has been money in the bank. In 28 career starts prior to the Laurel Turf Cup, all on turf, he has finished in the money 24 times, with 11 wins and more than $360,000 in earnings.

None of the other 11 starters--all at least three years younger than John's Call--could boast such lofty numbers. That may explain why bettors sent John's Call off as the 3-5 favorite.

Voss instructed Hamilton to stay out of trouble throughout the 1 1/2 mile trip, and the jockey did little more than watch from the middle of the pack as Pay Zone, with Mario Pino aboard, broke out early and opened a four-length lead over the field after the first mile. Pay Zone continued setting the pace until the final turn, when Hamilton, sitting fifth, asked John's Call to summon a closing kick.