07/22/2003 12:00AM

Magic Weisner resurfaces


Laurel Park's 22-day summer meet gets off to a fast start with the return of the darling of Maryland racing, Magic Weisner, on Thursday's opening-day card.

Another longtime Maryland favorite, trainer King Leatherbury, is on the brink of 6,000 career wins, a feat that has been accomplished by only two others, Jack Van Berg and Dale Baird. Leatherbury, 70, who has won a combined 51 training titles at Laurel Park and Pimlico, had saddled 5,998 winners through Monday. He saddles one runner on Thursday at Laurel, Private Cat, in the second race.

The much-anticipated return of Maryland-bred Magic Weisner takes place in the sixth race, a seven-furlong optional claimer that drew a field of seven males. Magic Weisner drew the rail and will be ridden for the first time by Ryan Fogelsonger.

Magic Weisner, a modestly bred gelding, was last year's rags-to-riches story. Trained, owned, and bred by Nancy Alberts, Magic Weisner dusted his local rivals in several stakes and then took on the best 3-year-olds in the country in the Preakness and finished second to War Emblem. Magic Weisner also won the Grade 2 Ohio Derby and was second in the Haskell.

Magic Weisner became seriously ill with the West Nile virus after the Haskell and has not raced since. He spent months recuperating at the New Bolton equine clinic in Penn-sylvania. One of the effects of the virus is the loss of motor skills, particularly in a horse's hind end.

"This horse really, really, really had a tough trip, and I have to give him a lot of credit," Alberts said Tuesday. "He really hadn't acted like himself until about four weeks ago. The [vets] told me as bad as this horse was, don't expect him to be the way he was before. He hasn't worked like he used to, but his last couple of works have shown small improvement, and that gives me hope."

The feature on the opener is the $75,000 Twixt Stakes, which attracted a field of five Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies. The probable favorite is Coquettish, who won the Maryland Juvenile Filly Championship last year at Laurel at the Twixt distance of 1 1/8 miles.

Five other stakes will be run at Laurel's short meet, including the $150,000 John D. Schapiro Memorial Handicap, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up on Aug. 2.