04/11/2010 12:00AM

Grove finishes strong to win Laurel training title


A strong finish enabled Chris Grove to overtake perennial leader Scott Lake and win his first training title at Laurel Park's winter meet that ended Saturday.

Grove, 40, began the final week of the 15-week meet two wins behind Lake, who has won 12 of the last 16 training titles at Laurel and Pimlico. Grove moved into a first-place tie with a two-win day Wednesday, took the lead Thursday with one victory, and then won another race Friday. Both Grove and Lake saddled two winners on Saturday's closing card, leaving Grove in front, 27-25.

Grove won five stakes during the meet, including the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie and Grade 2 General George handicaps on Feb. 15 with Sweet Goodbye and Greenspring. He topped all trainers with $653,480 in earnings.

"The best part is that I am not a claiming trainer so we did this by winning stakes and allowance races," said Grove, who went 6 for 12 in the final week. "This is for the entire barn from the exercise riders to the grooms and hot walkers. About three weeks ago I told them we had a shot at winning this and they all wanted it."

Erick Rodriguez finished as the meet's leading rider with 55 wins, 20 more than Harry Vega. A top 10 rider in Maryland since 2003, Rodriguez had 15 multiple win days during the meet. Rodriguez, 30, also was the leading rider at the 2009 fall meet and has won 108 races at Laurel since last September.

"I am really happy," Rodriguez said. "I have been riding good horses for top trainers and now expect to win."

Ben Mondello and Adam Russo led the owner standings, finishing first 11 times, two more than PTK LLC.

Live racing in Maryland shifts to Pimlico on Saturday for the six-week spring meet, headlined by the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes on May 15. Opening day will feature a ceremony honoring former Pimlico general manager Chick Lang, who died last month, the $70,000 Henry Clark Stakes, and a concert in-between the fifth and sixth races featuring country music star Steve Azar.