Little Casino is not only getting older, he's also getting better.
On the day the dark bay gelding turned 7 years old, he won his first stakes race yesterday in the Northern Wolf Handicap at Laurel Race Course.
For owners Bill and Phyllis Dixon, it has been a long wait.
They purchased Little Casino nearly five years ago as a 2-year-old in the Florida sales. Since then, he has endured a string of physical infirmities, including two bowed tendons, that might have sent other runners to the meat-packing houses.
"But we always thought he was an athlete. He showed ability," Phyllis Dixon said. "Billy Christmas [the Dixons' friend and adviser] always told us he'd come back."
Little Casino shot from off the pace in the six-horse field of the Northern Wolf Handicap and beat the much younger Sticks and Bricks by nearly a length.
The horse started his current campaign that culminated in yesterday's stakes victory by running in $5,000 claimers last year.
Mrs. Dixon recalled that when she and her husband originally bought the horse for $22,500, they turned him back at the Ocala 2-year-old sales because of a suspect knee.
"Even then, Billy [Christmas] liked him and urged us to keep him," Mrs. Dixon said. "So I negotiated with the sales company, and got him for $20,000."
After Little Casino bowed for the first time as a 2-year-old, he came back as a 4-year-old and won three races. But then he bowed again in another leg "and we gave him two years off," Bill Dixon said.
Trainer Ron Cartwright said yesterday, "Those legs are pretty well set now."
It was Cartwright's second stakes win in a week. Last Saturday he won the Congressional Handicap with Forry Cow How.
Jockey Steve Hamilton, who also rides the Dixons' stakes-winning filly, Mz. Zill Bear, was on Little Casino. Earlier on the card, he had a scare when his mount, Dixieland Jim, stumbled in the fourth race, went down on his nose and knocked out a tooth. Hamilton stayed on, but pulled up the horse.
'Prince' of a horse
Maryland fans might have another exceptional 3-year-old to root for this spring.
The long-striding Wolf Prince overcame adversity in the Dave's Friend Stakes yesterday and beat Asset Impression by a half length.
Wolf Prince was steadied twice and checked once during the six-furlong race and still got up to win.
The horse is owned by a consortium of communications executives -- Mike Baudhuin of Fairfax, Va., and Andy Steffen and Tom Reiman of Indianapolis.
Baudhuin owns the dam, Poi. "We bred her to Wolf Power because Andy [Steffen] owns a share in him," Baudhuin said.
Carlos Garcia trains Wolf Prince. He was ridden by his regular jockey, Edgar Prado, the leading Maryland rider of 1992.
There were only five horses in the Dave's Friend field. Trump Mahal was a late scratch after he came down with a 102-degree temperature yesterday morning.
Mark Johnston escaped serious injury yesterday after his mount T.V. Supper clipped heels with Paul's Practice in the stretch run of the second race. Johnston came off and then was run over by Larry Saumell on Bluemont Fair. However, Johnston only complained later of a sore shoulder, although he canceled the rest of his mounts on the card. . . . Laurel will be simulcasting the feature race from Calder Race Course near Miami on weekdays next week and also plans to televise the Gulfstream Park features on weekdays when that meet starts on Jan. 12. . . . Laurel got off to a good start for 1993. The handle reached almost $2 million, up about $150,000 from New Year's Day 1992. Maryland Turf Caterers, Laurel's new catering company, is receiving good early response. They sold out all tables yesterday in the clubhouse dining room. . . . The Dixons have about a dozen horses in training. They have six runners with Cartwright, four with John Lenzini and two with Christmas. One of their horses, the hurdler, Ink By The Drum, is in training in Ireland and runs later this month in a $100,000 Irish steeplechase. Mz. Zill Bear is currently wintering in Aiken, S.C.