05/11/2006 11:00PM

After years away, Confucius Say returns with win


Ordinarily, it would be foolhardy to plan a comeback for an 8-year-old horse who has been unable to race for 3 1/2 years. But as trainer George Yetsook and owner Randy Funkhouser can attest, Confucius Say is an extraordinary Thoroughbred.

One of West Virginia's most popular and successful racehorses, Confucius Say earned more than $500,000 in his first three seasons of racing, including consecutive runnings of Charles Town's most prestigious stakes, the West Virginia Breeders Classic. Along the way, he defeated quality runners such as star sprinter Shake You Down and $1.5 million earner Burning Roma.

Racing over a muddy track in the October 2002 running of the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Breeders Classic, Confucius Say romped by nearly 12 lengths. Already physically impaired by a broken bone spur in his left rear foot, Confucius Say came out of the race with a badly damaged right front tendon.

Relatively minor surgery removed the broken bone spur. But it took until last Saturday night - some 43 months after his last race - for Confucius Say to run again. Entered in a 4 1/2-furlong allowance sprint at Charles Town, Confucius Say prevailed by a half-length, his 13th victory in 24 lifetime starts, and was awarded a 92 Beyer Speed Figure - 2 points higher than he got for his last race 3 1/2 years earlier.

Confucius Say's comeback trail was marked by numerous 2 1/2-hour van trips to see veterinarian Dr. W.E. Riddle in Maryland, and by a string of bills. Funkhouser said the expenses, estimated at $40,000 to $50,000, were well worthwhile.

"We knew it would be at least a year before we could bring him back," Funkhouser said. "But we were committed to giving him as much time as necessary. I looked at the money spent as a very good investment. This is not your typical Charles Town horse."

Confucius Say, who weighs about 1,200 pounds and stands a striking 17 hands, is a son of Eastover Court, an unraced son of Seattle Slew and a half-brother to the successful runner Two Punch. He was bred at Funkhouser's O'Sullivan Farms, the largest and oldest breeding operation in West Virginia.

Yetsook admitted that a long series of starts and stops in Confucius Say's training was extremely frustrating.

"We were trying to be patient and do what's right for the horse," said Yetsook. "Every time we would get close to running him, we'd have a setback and we would have to wait another two or three months to start training again. We went through three different grooms. It was a disappontment to everyone and very stressful to me."

Confucius Say came close to racing on last fall's West Virginia Breeders Classic card, in the 4 1/2-furlong Dash for Cash. But heavy rain turned the track sloppy, and it was too risky to run the horse under those conditions.

"The horse has a great fan base," Yetsook said. "I would guess an extra 1,500 to 2,000 fans come out to the track when he runs. All kinds of people were angry when I scratched him that night. But we have to be very careful with him. One mistake could ruin him. He'll never see a wet track again."

Yetsook said Confucius Say came out of last weekend's race in tip-top shape. In addition to running Confucius Say at Charles Town, Yetsook said he will consider stakes at Delaware Park and a grass race at Colonial Downs. The long-range goal remains the $500,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic in October.

"No horse has ever won the race three times," Funkhouser said. "We think he's capable of doing that and maybe even winning a graded stakes."

After what Confucius Say has been through, don't discount anything as too far-fetched.

Trickle of Gold regains form

A return to her favorite track appears to have gotten Trickle of Gold back to her best form.

After three uncharacteristic poor performances in graded stakes in California, Florida, and New York, Trickle of Gold shortened up to 5 1/2 furlongs last Saturday in a high-priced optional claimer at Delaware Park and easily won by 2 1/2 lengths for her sixth victory in nine starts at the track.

Trainer Mike Gorham said it's unlikely he will run the 4-year-old Trickle of Gold in next Saturday's $75,000 Sweet and Sassy Stakes.

Two long-range possibilities at Delaware are the $100,000 Light Hearted on July 16 and the Grade 3, $200,000 Endine on Sept. 9. Both races are at six furlongs.

Napravnik wins five at Pimlico

Rosie Napravnik rode a career-high five winners on Thursday's 10-race card at Pimlico.

Napravnik, 18, won aboard Roops Loop ($6.40), Storm Legacy ($3.60), Tornado Wind ($5.80), Better Than Ever ($19.40), and Henry Street ($6.80).

Through the first 13 days of Pimlico's meet, Napravnik tops the jockey standings with 28 winners.