Dinner In Rio, who has averaged one start a week during the past month, has run so frequently that commentator Al Jerkens on the National Best Seven telecast yesterday said he thought the horse "was stabled at the starting gate."
Apparently, the big bay gelding thrives on racing.
The iron horse of the local turf division turned back eight rivals yesterday and picked up the biggest paycheck in his four-year racing career when he defeated New York invader Binary Light by three-quarters of a length in the $114,450 Fort McHenry Handicap at Laurel Race Course.
"You know what they say about these grass horses," said John Scanlan, trainer of Dinner In Rio. "You've got to run them as much as you can before it snows."
Another New York shipper, Majesty's Darby, was third, followed by favored Lindon Lime, who had won his two previous starts at Churchill Downs. Mark Johnston, who was attempting to sweep Laurel's three-race Fourth of July stakes program, was fifth aboard Stark South, the California runner that was second choice in the betting.
"I got the perfect trip, and that's what wins a lot of these grass races," said winning jockey Mario Verge. The horse also was dropping 11 pounds from his previous third-place finish in the Sir Ivor Stakes.
Overnight thunderstorms produced a "yielding" turf course, which didn't help the front-runners, Dancing Douglas and Bold Print. Even though slow early fractions were set, those horses gave way in the stretch, setting the race up for the closers.
Dinner In Rio laid third early and then kicked in under a strong ride by Verge.
Johnston said that Stark South had "clear sailing at the top of the nTC lane, but then didn't fire like I thought he would." Johnston had won weekend Laurel stakes with Taking Risks (Baltimore Budweiser Breeders' Cup) and Vice On Ice (Pearl Necklace Stakes).
The upset by the 9-1 shot, who paid $20.80 at Laurel, helped spark an unpredictable sixth edition of the National Best Seven. Only two favorites, Devil His Due in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park and Empire Pool in the Independence Handicap at Louisiana Downs, won during the seven-race series. A total of $306,593 was wagered nationwide, largest yet for the exotic bet but still not big enough for the wager to be considered a revenue producer for the sponsoring Thoroughbred Racing Associations.
The winning numbers were 5-9-6-1-4-8-5. No one selected all seven winners, but there were 15 winning tickets picking six of the seven winners. Each 50-cent wager returned $4,586.65.
The complete list of winners is: Devil His Due (Suburban Handicap, Belmont Park), Dinner In Rio (Fort McHenry Handicap, Laurel), Hey Hazel (Molly Pitcher Handicap, Monmouth Park), Marastani (Stars and Stripes Handicap, Arlington International Race Course), Country Coy (Americana Handicap, Calder Race Course), Empire Pool (Independence Handicap, Louisiana Downs) and Blues Traveller (American Handicap, Hollywood Park).
The jackpot, which is awarded when there is only one perfect winning ticket, amounts to $92,774.64.