07/11/2008 12:00AM

Aleo gone, but stable rolls on


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Business is business, and sacrifices sometimes have to be made. Rather than spending the week enjoying the sights and sounds of the Solano County Fair in the town of Vallejo (better known as the "Jewel of the East Bay"), Northern California trainer Greg Gilchrist found himself stranded on the other side of the continent in drab, lifeless Fort Lauderdale, stuck in the tropical sun amidst a confusing array of gourmet restaurants and boring boutiques.

It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

Gilchrist was in Florida preparing Indyanne for the $250,000 Azalea Stakes, part of Saturday's Summit of Speed at Calder Race Course. At the same time, back home at Golden Gate Fields, just south of Vallejo, the Gilchrist crew was putting the finishing touches on the mare Victorina in anticipation of her appearance on Sunday at the fair, when she will defend her title in the $50,000 Vacaville Handicap.

"I'll be back there," Gilchrist promised. "That's the way Wayne Lukas used to do it, right? Calder one day, the Solano Fair the next."

Or, in Wayne's case, more like Belmont to Hollywood and back. One thing's for sure, though. Lukas never had a shot to enjoy the various delights of the Northern California fair circuit. Gilchrist will be getting back to Solano just in time Sunday for the song stylings of Carmen Jara, an appearance by the cartoon icon El Chichicuilote (best described as a chicken in cowboy drag who sings like he swallowed all three chipmunks), and the ever popular Demolition Derby.

The Gilchrist runners were firmly favored to win both their races this weekend. If that should happen, he would be accepting congratulations with a heart still heavy from the recent death of their owner, Harry Aleo. The trainer now manages the horses for Aleo's estate.

"Harry instructed me about a week before he died just to keep running everything, and take care of business as usual, just like if he were here," Gilchrist said. "I'll be selling some as I see fit, and get the ones claimed that need to be claimed. It will probably take about a year to wind down and then that will be it."

Gilchrist was still buying horses earlier this year, on instructions from Aleo, despite the fact that Harry had pancreatic cancer and been given only a few months to live.

"That's just the kind of guy he was," Gilchrist said. "Never a moment of regret or self-pity. I'll be missing that guy, I'll tell you. You don't find those kind around much anymore. To be lucky enough to be associated with one, like I was. If it happened to me again it would be great. But I don't expect it to happen."

Aleo died on June 22, at the age of 88. He left behind a stable of about 15 horses, Victorina being the undisputed queen of the realm.

"There was nothing wrong with her when we sent her out last fall," Gilchrist noted. "I just looked up one day and told Harry, 'You know, I think we've had this filly in training for about 2 1/2 years. Maybe we ought to give her a rest.' "

Victornia returned from an eight-month competitive break to win the Washington Legislators Handicap at Emerald Downs on June 8.

"That same day, Wild Promises won the stake for Harry at Golden Gate," Gilchrist said. "That was a big day for him, and that was about the time he started to get worse. But up until then he was holding it together pretty well."

Just because Gilchrist opted not to put Victorina on the plane with Indyanne and run her in the far richer Princess Rooney at Calder does not mean he has been shy about shipping her around. She won the Meafara at Hawthorne in 2006 and was a close third that same season in the Dogwood Handicap at Churchill Downs. Victornia has knocked off two stakes at Turf Paradise, and was favored over Maryfield and Oprah Winney when she finished fourth in the 2007 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct.

As a 3-year-old, she also won the Azalea at Calder's Summit of Speed, although Gilchrist recalls the day for other reasons entirely. Aleo's 2005 Eclipse sprint champion Lost in the Fog ran the final race of his life that afternoon, finishing ninth in the Smile Handicap.

"I remember how Harry hardly even noticed Victorina winning that other race, he was so worried about Lost in the Fog," Gilchrist recalled. Two months later the colt was dead, a victim of inoperable, malignant tumors.

Now it's just Gilchrist, playing out the string, trying to maximize the value of the Aleo horses for the estate. If Victorina keeps rolling, a start in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita on Oct. 24 is not out of the question.

"We'll look at all that stuff," said Gilchrist, who never gets too far ahead of himself. "What I'd really like to do is take her somewhere and run her in a real good one-turn mile or seven-eighths. When she's right and times are good, that's when we wouldn't hesitate to step her up to something like that. Only thing is, Harry won't be here to enjoy it."