03/17/2005 12:00AM

Jenkins runner may score


As a 3-year-old in 2003, Penobscot Bay displayed enough talent to run in five stakes, highlighted by a second-place finish in the $100,000 Federico Tesio and a third in the Sir Barton on the Preakness undercard.

For much of his racing career since then, the now 5-year-old Penobscot Bay was trying to get past his second allowance condition, a hurdle he finally cleared in January.

His recent razor-sharp form may be sufficient for Penobscot Bay to register his first stakes victory against a suspect group of older horses in Saturday's $75,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Handicap at Laurel Park.

The 1 1/8-mile stakes, which drew a field of eight, also launches the Magna 5.

Penobscot Bay's last two races, both at nine furlongs, were the best performances of his career. A come-from-behind runner trained by Rodney Jenkins, Penobscot Bay earned a 94 Beyer Speed Figure for his win at Pimlico in January and a career-high 98 against high-priced optional claimers on Feb. 6 in New York.

The three horses in Saturday's field with back stakes class on their record - Lusty Latin, Jim Thirds Bolero, and Little Matth Man - are all coming off dismal efforts.

Lusty Latin, winner of the nine-furlong Schapiro Memorial Breeders' Cup Handicap at Pimlico last September, has been idle for four months after losing his last two races in late fall by a combined margin of nearly 43 lengths. He has been training for his comeback at Fair Grounds.

The last time Lusty Latin returned from a long layoff, he won going 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga.

Jim Thirds Bolero got up by a nose two starts ago in the Native Dancer at Pimlico on Jan. 15, but followed up a month later by racing far back against slightly tougher competition for the entire nine furlongs of the John Campbell Handicap at Laurel.

Little Matth Man, attempting a comeback from a serious nerve disease, showed signs of life when he just missed to Jim Thirds Bolero in the Native Dancer, but was last, beaten nearly 20 lengths, in the Campbell.

Stepatatime and Marina Minister are similar to Penobscot Bay. Both have been running well at lower levels.

The 6-year-old Stepatatime earned a 97 Beyer for his most recent race, a second-place finish going a mile. The last time he tried stakes company, he was sixth in October 2003.

Marina Minister, first or second in each of his last eight starts, has been off since early January. He finished a distant fourth the last time he ran in a stakes, last summer at Colonial Downs.