Veteran jockey Rick Wilson is recovering from an expensive bout of the flu.
Larry Reynolds substituted for the ailing rider yesterday aboard Open Toe in the Nellie Morse Stakes and pocketed the winning jockey's share of $3,000.
Reynolds earned it, prevailing by a head in a stretch-long duel with Mark Johnston on Buffels, the King Leatherbury-trained mare who has had a busy October.
After nearly a monthlong rest in September, Buffels ran for the third time in three weeks yesterday and nearly pulled off a victory in the $50,000 stakes. Johnston forged the mare to the front and slowed the pace to a crawl but succumbed in the final yards to a determined Open Toe.
"I knew once she got her head in front, she intended to keep it there," Reynolds said. He added that Open Toe's trainer, Jimmy Murphy, told him that "the key is to get this filly to relax, and she relaxed perfect."
That Open Toe could rally from off such a slow pace -- a half-mile in 49 2/5 seconds and six furlongs in 1 minute, 13 3/5 seconds -- was a testament to her gameness. The final time for 9 furlongs was 1:50 2/5.
The field drew a representative group of hardy Maryland racemares, six of them stakes winners and the other two stakes-placed. The eight horses had earned nearly $1.5 million, mostly on the Maryland circuit.
Reynolds said he thought that Double Sixes, the favorite who is also trained by Murphy, might have shown more speed and pressed Buffels for the lead. But the filly, who won the Pimlico Distaff this year, was making her first start in three months and was not up to matching strides with Buffels.
Still, she held on for third place in the stretch, defeating Tennis Lady by a head for the show position.
It was the second stakes victory for Open Toe, who won the Hilltop Stakes last year at Pimlico as a 3-year-old. It was also the second time in three years that a horse owned by Jane duPont Lunger's Christiana Stable had won the race.
Lunger won the stakes in 1992 with Stem The Tide, who is retired and in foal to Storm Cat, sire of 1994 Preakness winner Tabasco Cat.
Wilson, who came down with the flu on Thursday, has missed three days of riding. His wife, Jeanie, said yesterday that he still has a temperature and she's not sure if he'll compete today. Wilson, who won the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes at Laurel two weeks ago, is fifth in the standings, 11 wins behind Prado. Reynolds, Johnston and Mario Pino are tied for second place.
NOTES: Many horsemen who own and train horses at Pimlico are uncertain about their winter plans after management announced Friday that the track will be closed for training from December through February. One owner, Baltimorean Jack Sadler, said he BTC is selling his horse, Primary Space, in a coming bloodstock sale. "If I can't go out to see him train in the morning and enjoy him 100 percent, I figure I might as well sell him and buy another horse in the spring," Sadler said. . . . Other horsemen worry that many small-time trainers will go out of business. They either won't be allotted stall space at Laurel or Bowie or the daily commute to those tracks for them and their help will be too costly. Vice president of racing Lenny Hale said he should have stall assignments made this week for the Pimlico horses. . . .
Dick Small, who has 30 horses stabled at Pimlico, is uncertain about his plans. He'll probably divide his string, keeping some in Maryland and sending the others to Aqueduct or Oaklawn Park for the winter. Small's principal owner, Robert Meyerhoff, is Maryland's top owner of 1994 and ranks sixth in the nation in earnings, winning over $2 million and 30 races so far this year with his horses. . . . Joe Rocco won Laurel's first race yesterday with Glorious Maiden and is three victories shy of riding his 2,500th winner. . . . Jeannine Edwards has been asked to be co-host of the National Best-7 weekly television show on ESPN2 on a regular basis. The Maryland horsewoman is a former trainer and wife of local Jockeys Guild representative Jimmy Edwards. . . . The winning numbers in yesterday's Best-7 were 3-1-7-(dead heat) 4 and 9-9-9-11. There was one perfect seven of seven winning ticket worth $116,138.70. . . . The Barclay Tagg Grade I winner, Royal Mountain Inn, is a patient at the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa. The horse is having his ankles operated on for the fourth time in three years. Tagg scratched the horse right before the recent Turf Classic at Belmont Park after bone chips appeared in one ankle.