Leading rider Mark Johnston finds himself in an enviable spot as Laurel Park wraps up its 30-day live summer meet this weekend.
He rides the horse to beat in each of the track's closing stakes -- Warning Glance, the likely odds-on favorite today in the $50,000-added Chieftain Handicap, despite carrying high weight of 120 pounds; and Calipha, who is more of an iffy proposition tomorrow when she makes her turf debut in the $75,000 All Brandy Stakes.
"He looks real tough" is how Johnston describes Warning Glance, wire-to-wire winner on a soggy grass course in his last start July 4.
"He breaks from the outside, but with his speed, that's not going to be a problem," Johnston predicted.
Warning Glance's old foe, Redcall, drew the rail, but doesn't seem to have his former zip. He's been soundly beaten by Warning Glance in both of his last starts and still is trying to win his first 1995 race.
Stuart Janney III, owner of Warning Glance, is active on two added-money fronts today. Pat Day rides his 3-year-old filly, Conquistadoress, at Saratoga this afternoon in the Grade I $150,000 Test Stakes.
Johnston says his chances on Calipha are "more up in the air" tomorrow in the All Brandy Stakes. The 4-year-old Two Punch filly has never raced on the turf, "but if she takes to it, she'll win," Johnston said. He added that he has worked the horse steadily for trainer Bud Delp, but has yet to be on her when she's breezed over the grass.
"What she'll do is as much a mystery to me as it is for everyone else," he said.
By trying Calipha on the grass, Delp is thinking ahead to the Maryland Million Ladies Stakes on the turf on Maryland Million Day at Laurel on Oct. 14.
Among the horses that Johnston singled out that he has to beat tomorrow are the 1993 All Brandy winner, Mz. Zill Bear, as well as Churchbell Chimes and out-of-town invaders Vice on Ice and Suspect Terrain.
Johnston isn't the only local jockey with double stakes mounts over the weekend. Larry Reynolds and Juan Umana also have horses in each race and two trainers, Ron Cartwright and Dale Capuano, are also saddling a runner in each stakes.
Cartwright sends out Redcall today and Mz. Zill Bear tomorrow; Capuano starts Honorable Flight in the Chieftain and Bold And Gorgeous in the All Brandy.
Nationally, the Test Stakes is the lone Grade I race to be run today. In addition to Conquistadoress, another Maryland-owned filly, Stormy Blues, is in the field. It is the first start for Stormy Blues, who is owned by Harriet and David Finkelstein of Pikesville, since she reared at the start and was outrun May 18 in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico.
Hollywood Park offers the richest stakes in the country on both days. Today, five horses are scheduled to start in the $250,000 Caesars Palace Turf Championship at 1 1/2 miles on the turf. Tomorrow, the track offers the $500,000 Swaps Stakes, which is expected to be the first start for Thunder Gulch since the 3-year-old colt won the Belmont Stakes on June 11.
Among the Swaps entries is Maryland-based Da Hoss, who is headquartered at the Fair Hill Training Center near Elkton with trainer Michael Dickinson.