Rarely does a jockey enjoy riding a 300-to-1 shot. Yesterday was an exception.
Even though the race chart says 3-year-old Perfect Score was a 7-to-1 winner in yesterday's $50,000-added Horatius Stakes at Laurel Park, the odds were different for veteran rider Mark Johnston.
Not long ago in Las Vegas, Johnston placed a future-book wager on Perfect Score, getting 300-to-1 for the Kentucky Derby. Of course, the seven-furlong Horatius was a long way from Churchill Downs, but Johnston considered it a perfect first step.
"He's going to be better the farther he races," said Johnston. "I've been working this horse all along and I like him so much I bet him in Las Vegas. I'm holding a ticket with odds of 300-to-1."
In the Horatius, he was merely the third choice in a field of eight and a big underdog to the favorite, unbeaten Mr. Katowice, who was 2-to-5 at post time.
No matter. Johnston kept Perfect Score just off the hot pace set by front-running 13-1 shot Hush Itsa Secret and Mr. Katowice. He took the son of Personal Hope three wide and accelerated into the lead.
Mr. Katowice put up a strong fight as he and Perfect Score pulled away from the field, but Johnston and Perfect Score prevailed by a neck in the quick time of 1: 22 3/5. Raire Standard was five lengths back in third.
It was the third win in six starts for Perfect Score, who had been idle since winning the $40,000 Bobby Hale Stakes at Timonium in August. He carried 122 pounds in the race, spotting seven pounds to Mr. Katowice, who was making his stakes debut after two impressive Laurel wins this winter.
A mild breathing disorder kept Perfect Score sidelined until yesterday, but trainer Grover Delp said that the $40,000 Keeneland purchase has been training well, with Johnston doing most of the riding.
Delp said he expected his horse to finish no worse than second in the Horatius, prompting him to make a wager on Perfect Score at yesterday's generous 7-to-1 odds.
As for the Kentucky Derby, Delp is not quite as eager as his rider. The trainer plans to keep Perfect Score running in Maryland in the spring and is aiming toward next month's seven-furlong, $60,000 Goss L. Stryker Stakes at Laurel and possibly the nine-furlong, $200,000 Tesio at Pimlico in April.
Delp has not been to the Derby since taking Spectacular Bid there in 1979, but he's not afraid to mention it for his 3-year-old standout.
"He [Perfect Score] hasn't been mentioned anywhere, but he'll be mentioned now," he said. "He'll be at the bottom of the totem pole in horses to watch, but maybe that will change."
As for Mr. Katowice, the second-place finish did not disappoint his trainer, Bob Camac, a New Jersey resident who keeps 25 horses at Philadelphia Park and 10 at Laurel.
He is optimistic the son of Katowice, whose stakes-winning mother, Hail Atlantis, is a daughter of Seattle Slew, will eventually run equally well on the turf.
"He wasn't a seasoned horse today," said Camac. "He didn't get much out of his last race when he won by 11 [lengths], so I considered this a great race. This is really the first time he had to get down and dirty and I think he did a great job."
Johnston rode two winners yesterday, giving him 1,995 in his career.
Pub Date: 2/07/99