After a long and frustrating summer, King Leatherbury raced into the record books yesterday on the opening program at Timonium Race Course.
The venerable Maryland thoroughbred trainer finally broke the 6,000-win barrier when Cherokee Sunrise pulled away for a 4 1/4 -length victory in the seventh race, a maiden special event for 2-year-olds.
Third on the all-time list, the Baltimore native and Mitchellville resident joined Dale Baird and Jack Van Berg as the only trainers with as many wins.
"We've been waiting so long and I was disappointed it didn't come earlier," Leatherbury said. "Everybody expected it to be at Laurel, and I feel bad it didn't happen there. But at least it was in Maryland."
Mark Rosenthal was the fortunate jockey aboard the historic victor, who stalked the pacesetters for half of the 6 1/2 -furlong race, made a big move on the turn for home and won handily.
"I was lucky enough to be on the right horse at the right time," Rosenthal said. "In this sport, you're lucky if you ride that many [6,000] or saddle that many, much less win that many."
Earlier this summer, Mark Johnston - who for years received the first riding call on Leatherbury's horses - returned to the state to attempt to bring home the momentous winner. But Johnston was blanked at the Laurel summer meeting on Leatherbury mounts and returned to Kentucky. Leatherbury's only winner during that span was at Charles Town.
"Mark [Johnston] doesn't ride at Timonium," Leatherbury said after receiving a crystal trophy, posing for photos and signing autographs in the winner's circle. "The poor guy rode his heart out at Laurel trying to get it for me."
Leatherbury's first win was in 1959 at Sunshine Park (now Tampa Downs). No. 5,000 came May 21, 1993, at Pimlico Race Course, and he had 5,980 entering this year.
Known as the "King of the claimers," he has competed in his home state for his entire career. He is a member of the board of directors at Timonium.
"Absolutely, we're happy it happened here," said Timonium general manager Howard "Max" Mosner. "At our last board meeting, we told him to 'wait until Timonium' and he said he was going to do it as soon as he could. After the first race, when he didn't win, he said he had a shot with the one in the seventh."
The shot proved a good one.
Ameri Brilliance broke a 13-year-old track record in yesterday's feature, the $33,000 Bobby Hale Memorial Purse.
The 4-year-old gelding by Ameri Valay zipped around the compact oval in 43 3/5 seconds for four furlongs, topping Big Rose's mark by more than a second. Ameri Brilliance won by eighth lengths under Omar Klinger.
Travis Dunkelberger, the favorite, took a quick lead in the jockeys' race with four victories, including three straight for trainer Hamilton Smith. Dunkelberger won 26 races on seven cards in 2000.