12/30/2006 1:00AM

One Maryland-bred favorite holds on, another just fails


In a pair of photo finishes in which the margin was a neck, one heavy favorite just held on and another was beaten in the male and female divisions of the Maryland Juvenile Championship at Laurel Park.

Roaring Lion ($4.80) scored his third consecutive victory for jockey Luis Garcia and trainer Richard Small when he fended off a late run by Bianchi's Boy to win the race for Maryland-bred 2-year-old males.

Welcome Inn ($11) ran down 1-5 favorite Spectacular Malibu in the stakes for 2-year-old statebred fillies.

Roaring Lion took the lead with about 5 1/2 furlongs remaining in his one-mile race, turned back one challenge from Digger at the top of the stretch, and had enough left to repel the late rally of Bianchi's Boy. He ran one mile in 1:38.56.

"He stumbled out of the gate and then he tried to run up with me," Garcia said of Roaring Lion. "He wanted to go, so I let him do it. I can tell you this, if there were a couple more horses in the race and he could have sat off it, I would have won easily."

In the Juvenile Filly, Spectacular Malibu appeared destined to win for the third time in four lifetime starts when she opened up by 2 1/2 lengths with a furlong remaining. But Welcome Inn, ridden by Jeremy Rose for trainer Graham Motion, responded to right-handed whipping, overtook the heavy favorite at the sixteenth pole, and gamely hung on. The winning time was 1:39.26.

"When I hit her the first time right handed, she responded very well and took off," said Rose, who won three races on the card. "I was very confident turning for home. It is always nice to be running at someone instead of getting run down."