LAUREL -- Soon after Noblest Heart crossed the finish line first in last year's Davona Dale Handicap, trainer Donald Barr and friends were high-fiving and whooping and laughing.
But the end to that story wasn't as joyful as you might think. A jockey's objection ultimately led to Noblest Heart's disqualification, and Barr was quite upset by the way the whole thing unfolded.
So when Noblest Heart nosed out favored Local Thriller in yesterday's $55,300 Davona Dale at Laurel Race Course, Barr calmly walked to the winner's circle, swelled with a sense of triumph and vindication.
"I always felt like she should have this race," Barr said.
The 1991 Davona Dale was just as much a struggle for Noblest Heart as the 1990 race, in which she surged past Double Bunctious, opened a big lead, then barely held on to finish first by a head. Yesterday, she dogged Local Thriller from the outset of the 1 1/8 -mile event, then put her nose in front with just a few yards to go.
Mike Luzzi rode Noblest Heart, who was the 4-1 third choice in a field of eight fillies and mares.
"I stayed within striking distance, and she just fired," said Luzzi, who leads the Laurel standings with 16 winners.
After last year's race, Noblest Heart took a seven-month vacation. Barr said a minor injury and a deserved rest were the reasons, and owner Jim Lewis of Lewisfield Farm had resigned himself to retiring her to the breeding shed.
"But she started doing so good again, we thought we'd race her some more," Barr said. The mare had been 0-for-5 since returning this year, but, Barr said, she came out of her last race well and was ready for stakes competition -- notably the Davona Dale, which he believed to be coming up a relatively weak race.
An indication of its lack of strength was that Local Thriller was the starting top-weight with just 114 pounds, including jockey Allen Stacy.
Local Thriller ran as far and as hard as she could, Stacy said. When the field turned into the stretch, Noblest Heart was the only one with a real chance at catching Local Thriller.
"She ran her eyeballs out," said Stacy.
Mt. Airy Beauty finished seven lengths behind Local Thriller in third, with Tia Juanita an additional six lengths back in fourth.
NOTES: The first race in Maryland for a foal of Broad Brush is scheduled for tomorrow. Sticks and Bricks, a 2-year-old out of the mare Reflection Knoll, is entered in the second race. Broad Brush retired in 1987 as the all-time leading Maryland-bred earner, with a bankroll of $2,656,793. . . . Clever Trevor suffered a superficial cut in Saturday's Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash, apparently when making light contact when passing the fallen Bravely Bold. The cut is not expected to alter the training schedule for Clever Trevor, who is headed for Chicago. . . . The Laurel jockeys' race is well-bunched through 14 racing days. Luzzi leads over Clarence "Jo Jo" Ladner (13 winners), Edgar Prado (12), Mario Pino (12) and Rick Wilson (11).