For much of the winter of 1994, East Coast racing has been pummeled by storms and sickness.
But a horse named Blushing Julian, who missed prep races because of canceled cards and a quarantine caused by an equine herpes outbreak, demonstrated at Laurel Race Course yesterday that such obstacles can be overcome.
The chestnut colt, who hadn't raced in nearly 90 days, made the lead easily in the $200,000 General George Stakes and cruised to a 4 1/2 -length win. Under regular rider Bobby Colton, the horse from the barn of Allen Iwinski, leading trainer at Philadelphia Park, turned in an excellent time of 1 minute, 22 4/5 seconds for seven furlongs on a wet track.
The rest of the 12-horse field seemed mired in the mud. New York invader Chief Desire staged a mild rally, finishing second, 3 1/2 lengths in front of Milton P. Higgins III's Who Wouldn't, who proved best of the local runners. Last year's winner, Majesty's Turn, floundered after trying to keep pace with Blushing Julian, and finished sixth as a well-beaten favorite.
The race was run in nearly the identical manner as the Barbara Fritchie Handicap, the female counterpart to the General George, which was won on Saturday by Mixed Appeal in similar wire-to-wire fashion.
Iwinski said he had intended to run Blushing Julian in the Northern Wolf Stakes at Laurel as a General George prep, but the race was canceled because of bad weather. Then another intended prep, the Equus Breeders' Cup Handicap at Garden State Park, was missed because horses weren't allowed out of )) Iwinski's base at Philadelphia Park because of a two-week shipping ban prompted by the detection of the herpes virus.
When racing was shut down for several weeks in January at Philadelphia Park by a series of ice and snowstorms, "we sent the horse to a farm with an indoor arena and were able to keep him going there," Iwinski said. He added that "we were lucky that we didn't miss any workouts and that the quarantine was eventually lifted."
Still, questions about the horse's fitness remained yesterday after the disrupted training schedule, although they were dispelled by the time Blushing Julian hit the stretch.
"I had my doubts. I thought he might get tired and that we'd be stopping in the stretch," Colton said. "I was shocked when he made the lead the way he did. I thought I'd be stalking Majesty's Turn, but it was the other way around. When he made the lead, I decided to go on with it."
Luigi Gino, trainer of Majesty's Turn, said he had told his rider, Albert Delgado "to lay back off that 1-horse [Blushing Julian]. Maybe I should have told him to go on [to the lead]. I don't know. Maybe it's the track, too. You never know."
Iwinski said he was in the stands screaming to Colton: "Get away from the rail! Get away from the rail!"
In the first four or five races, Iwinski said, horses on the inside fence that showed speed were tiring. Colton didn't really move away from the rail until he made the final turn, which made Blushing Julian's performance all that more impressive.
Edgar Prado, who rode runner-up Chief Desire, said: "I thought my horse was ready to make a big move and that the leader would start coming back to me. But I just couldn't get to the winner."
Although he was overlooked by the bettors at 11.70-to-1 odds, Blushing Julian had shown proven class despite his lengthy lay-off. He had previously won or placed in four stakes as a 3-year-old. John Gambone purchased the horse as a 2-year-old for $175,000 at the Florida sales in 1992.
The victory was Blushing Julian's sixth in 11 career starts. He has earned $275,920 and will be pointed to the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint in November at Churchill Downs.
The horse is a son of Mt. Livermore, who also produced 1990-91 national sprint champion Housebuster.
The General George card completed a busy betting weekend at the state's eight wagering locations. Nearly $8 million was bet in Maryland during the three-day period.
The Double Triple was suspended yesterday after Brass Intent, who dumped her rider and ran off in the post parade, was a late scratch. The carry-over pool is $151,961.20.
Colton, who said he had never previously won a stakes in Maryland, pulled off an added-money double. Earlier in the card, he won the Landuara Stakes aboard Ask Shananie, a shipper from trainer Ned Allard's barn at Garden State Park. Chip Reed's Yo Girl, a half- sister to his Maryland-bred champion, Chip's Dancer, finished second.