05/20/2001 11:00PM

Disco Rico thrills trainer with Maryland BC win

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BALTIMORE - In 22 years of training horses in Maryland, never has Valora Testerman experienced the kind of thrill that Disco Rico gave her Saturday at Pimlico.

Disco Rico won the $200,000 Maryland Breeders' Cup Handicap, a Grade 3 race carded directly before the Preakness, by leading virtually gate to wire. A 4-year-old Citidancer colt, Disco Rico put away favored Explicit after a wicked speed duel, then ran away to a 2 1/2-length triumph over Flame Thrower.

"I just love this horse so much," an emotional Testerman said as she waited for Disco Rico to return to a crowded winner's circle. "This is my biggest thrill. I knew he could do this. To have him do it in front of all these people, that makes it great."

Disco Rico, a Maryland-bred owned by Alfred Dirico, broke sharply from his outside post, racing alongside Explicit through fractions of 22.23 seconds and 45.02. With jockey Harry Vega sitting quietly, Disco Rico spurted clear after turning for home and was never threatened, finishing six furlongs in 1:10.40. He paid $8.40 as the fourth choice.

Istintaj finished a length behind Flame Thrower. Then came Crucible, Just Call Me Carl, and Explicit. Delaware Township was scratched.

Flame Thrower, making his first start since finishing eighth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November, ran creditably in his first start against older rivals, rallying steadily after a somewhat sluggish start.

Disco Rico, based at Pimlico, now has won eight of 14 starts. In perhaps his most notable prior start, he finished first in a near-record 1:08.06 for six furlongs in the Montpelier Stakes on the

De Francis Memorial undercard last July at Laurel, but was disqualified in a controversial decision.

In his two starts before the Maryland BC, Disco Rico easily won the Endless Surprise Stakes at Laurel and Fire Plug Stakes at Pimlico in short fields.

Disco Rico earned $120,000, increasing his bankroll to $444,744.