Ah Day's Sonny Hine Win Tops Hamilton's Return

(from Laurel Park report)
Jockey Steve "Cowboy" Hamilton has made it all the way back from retirement, winning his first race after a one year absence Friday and capturing the $100,000 Sonny Hine Stakes atop Ah Day Saturday at Laurel Park.

The King Leatherbury-conditioned Ah Day splashed through the sloppy going to a 2-1/4-length victory. The final times was 1:10.64 for the six-furlong test for 3-year-olds. Lemons Of Love and jockey Rosie Napravnik made a gallant run after the winner in deep stretch but had to settle for second. Nine Best, who battled Songofthesailor early, finished third, 12 3/4 lengths behind the runner-up.

Morning line Fabulous Strike scratched, opting for the Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park, as did Valid Brush, leaving a field of five.

The Jim Stable's Ah Day has enjoyed a banner year, also capturing the Federico Tesio, Horatius, Deputed Testamony and Red Legend stakes during his 3-year-old campaign. He placed in the Leonard Richards (gr. III), Humphrey S. Finney and Dancing Count stakes as well. The maryland-bred Malibu Moon  gelding has 10 first or second place finishes in 13 starts this year.

"He's a runner," said Leatherbury, who ranks third all-time with 6,166 career winners. "Turf, dirt, slop, short, long he's right there. That's characteristic of a really good horse."

Hamilton is starting the third comeback of his career. He picked up the mount on Ah Day when regular rider Jonathan Joyce fractured his collarbone in a Wednesday spill. Ah Day paid $5.60, $2.80 and $2.40 and topped a $24.60 exacta and $79.60 triple.

After racing in third behind front-runner Nine Best, who completed the opening quarter mile in :22 3/5, Ah Day advanced three wide on the turn to gain command. He led after a half-mile in :46 and took a three-length lead in the stretch, winning under brisk urging from Hamilton.

"It set up better than we thought it would," said Hamilton. "The horse had it his own way the whole race and when it was time to go, he did his thing and went to running."

Lemons of Love paid $4 and $2.40 and Nine Best was $3 to show.

Among the top five riders in Maryland five times during the 1990's, Hamilton was out of racing in 2001, 2002 and 2003 while working on the oil fields in his native Oklahoma. He returned in January 2004 and won the Pimlico spring riding title. He officially retired for a second time in March but began another comeback six weeks ago. Friday marked his first day riding since Oct. 15, 2005 and he celebrated by reaching the wire first on his second mount back.

"There is no better feeling than these last two days," added Hamilton, who turns 33 on next Wednesday. "After yesterday's win I did all I could not to cry. Not in 100 years would I think this would happen to me again."

(Chart, Equibase)