11/22/2003 1:00AM

Laurel: Ironton holds off late charge


Ironton shot ahead of pacesetting Boca Bound after a half-mile, opened up a 3 1/2-length lead around the turn, and held on stubbornly against a trio of fast closers to win the $75,000 Northern Dancer for Maryland-bred 3-year-olds at Laurel Park.

Ironton hit the wire a nose in front of runner-up James, with Conservation a neck behind in third and High Watermark, the fastest closer of all, another neck behind in fourth. The even-money favored entry of Foufa's Warrior and Boca Bound finished last and next-to-last in the field of eight.

Ironton, trained by Michael Petro and ridden by brother Nick Petro, ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.32 over a fast track and paid $12.80 as the fourth choice.

"He gave me everything he had," Nick Petro said. "I didn't want to hit him, but when it comes down to money you have to make the best of it"

"We almost had it," said Abel Castellano, who rode James. "When you have a bob of heads like that, you have to get lucky."