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Monday, July 31
Fortunate Card, Lawbook notch victories

Calder's 21st annual Florida Stallion Stakes, a series that serves to showcase the best juvenile progeny of the state's considerable stallion roster, kicked off Aug. 10 with a pair of races that were, in the words of track announcer Phil Saltzman, "nail-biters."

Fortunate Card
And though some of those victorious nails belonged to trainer Henry Collazo and jockey Roger Velez, who flew solo after teaming up just last year to win two-thirds of the series' open division with Carey's Gold, cuticles were being shaved as well in Saratoga, N.Y. That was where Richlyn Farm's principals Dick and Evelyn Pollard watched their Fortunate Card eek out the narrowest of wins over Heavenly Miss in the filly half of the matched $75,000, six-furlong races, the Desert Vixen.

"This is just so terrific," said Dick, a retired Bank of Boston executive who with his wife owned and operated a Marion County farm until selling it, along with his broodmare band, two years ago. "We were offered $130,000 for her after her last race: and that was when she lost in a maiden race!"

That race, the debut effort by the daughter of Fortunate Prospect himself a Stallion Stakes contestant in 1983 -- resulted in a narrow loss on July's Summit of Speed card, but it did little to extinguish the flame that Collazo had been carrying ever since he saw the filly at April's Ocala Breeders' Sales Company 2-year-old auction.

"I bought her with the sole purpose of getting to the Stallion Stakes, and even though she lost on Summit of Speed day, with the trouble she had I considered that a winning effort," beamed the trainer. "Like Sebastian (jockey Madrid) said she was just toying with them -- just like she's been toying with everything else I have in my barn. I've been training her with some of my older horses and they just can't keep up with her."

But Heavenly Miss, the 7-2 second choice following her victory in the $100,000 J J's Dream Stakes six weeks ago, kept up just fine. The two fillies hooked horns heading into the turn of the Desert Vixen and were in lockstep throughout the closing :26.37 quarter mile that made the final time 1:11.72. Fortunate Card and Heavenly Miss were as close laterally as longitudinally, Madrid and Manny Aguilar alternately taking away each others whipping space even as the lightly raced Florida-breds maintained straight paths.

"She was just doing enough waiting for the other horse," said Madrid, breaking a 0 for 28 record in FSS competition. "It shows they want to fight and makes you look pretty good in a photo finish." That photo finish showed Fortunate Card's nose clearly ahead, though had the result been reversed it still would have extended the lead of Mike Sherman's Farnsworth Farms as the leading breeder of FSS winners. Whereas the runner-up races as a homebred, Fortunate Card went through the ring for $20,000.

"Henry told me this was a Stallion Stakes winner as soon as he saw her," recalled Pollard with a chuckle. "I said 'Come on, we only paid $20,000!"

The owner, with 11 horses in training he calls buying juveniles at sales "more fun and at the same cost" as compared to breeding called Collazo and partner Beverley Jansen, "So good it's spooky." And the spooky trainer, who can now boast of a three-for-four record in the FSS, returned the compliment. "It's just so nice now to have owners who will let me train this caliber of horse," said the 49-year-old, a long-time assistant to Steve DiMauro who began this stint as a public trainer just two years ago. "You try to lay out a game plan and this time I got lucky that it worked."

Whereas Collazo has made a sudden and dramatic impact on the FSS, it has taken Tommy Heard the better part of nine decades. One race following, the 84-year-old owner/trainer made his debut in the FSS winner's circle following the three-quarter-length victory by Lawbook the 1:11.28 time just one tick shy of Snuck In's three-year-old stakes record -- in the Dr. Fager open division. To get to the wire first, though, Lawbook and jockey Velez had to overcome the 4-5 favorite Trust N Luck, who took a clear lead with him to the eighth pole after pulling away from pacesetters Sweet Promises and Rufustheroadrunner.

"At the beginning of the race he wanted to lay back and goof around," said Velez. "When I got to the three-eighths pole I said 'let me put the stick up and show it to you and see what happens.' He exploded at the eighth pole and even though I had a challenge from (Trust N Luck) I knew I had him beat."

Winning was an unusual sensation for the son of Notebook, bred by Beverley and Steve Tortora and acquired privately by Heard after he failed to meet his $60,000 reserve at last August's OBS sale. The most experienced of the 10 Dr. Fager entrants failed to break his maiden six times before a length victory in Velez' first ride just three weeks ago.

"As hard as it is to believe, he had legitimate excuses in every race," Heard said, going through his past performances and detailing the excuses that ranged from getting caught wide in an early season three-furlong race at Gulfstream to poor breaks that cost him on three occasions. "Even when he won last time he was behind a wall of six horses and had to wait forever for a hole to open up." Loss number five was a June 22 one-length defeat at the hands of Trust N Luck over a sloppy track, an effort that convinced Heard but not the bettors that Lawbook belonged with this field. "He was 8-1 and the other one was less than even-money," he said with amazement. "I figured somewhere in between something was overlooked." What they may have overlooked, he thinks, is how Lawbook "Kept getting better even as he kept getting in trouble." Heard continued by describing the athleticism of his smallish colt, saying, "He's one of the few horses I've seen who can get caught in trouble and still start to run once he gets clear."

That is high praise from Heard, who has surely seen a lot of horses. With the Dr. Fager win, the Texas native has now won stakes races in each of the past eight decades, beginning in 1938 at Rockingham with a mare named Be Blue. Heard raced primarily in New York and New Jersey for the better part of his career, moved to California where he was the leading owner at Hollywood Park in 1978, and finally settled permanently in Florida in the 1980s when he owned and operated the Heardsdale Training Center in South Miami. "I try not to remember too many dates because it shows how old I am," he said with a laugh adding that he always maintained a few horses for himself but "decided to fool around only with my own horses once I came down here for good." He had only tried the FSS with two previous juveniles, and had been absent from the series since unplaced finishes by Unclear Gamble in 1995. But the third try and Lawbook proved to be his charm. "And I'll tell you what," warned Velez, "he's going to keep getting better and better. He doesn't even know how to run yet."

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