01/06/2003 12:00AM

Johnston taking leave from riding

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Mark Johnston, a former Eclipse Award winner and the third all-time leading jockey in Maryland, has decided to take a leave of absence from riding.

"It's just time to step back and regroup," said Johnston, 32, whose 2,748 career victories at Pimlico and Laurel Park rank behind only Mario Pino and Edgar Prado. "I have been burned out before but somehow managed to work through it. I need to step away from the game and come back fresh."

In his 14-year career, Johnston has won 3,032 races, including 328 when he was honored with an Eclipse as the nation's top apprentice in 1990. He was the leading rider in Maryland four times, most recently in 2000 when he rode a career-high 336 winner.

Johnston finished 2002 ranked in the top 50 jockeys nationally in both victories (189) and earnings ($4,672,182).

Johnston set no timetable for his return.