09/26/2008 12:00AM

Another shot at a dream run


ARCADIA, Calif. - In mid-September of 1997, a tropical cyclone raged across the eastern Pacific, just off the Mexican coast. The storm tickled the tip of Baja California and passed directly over Socorro Island, devastating its lonely village, before moving westward into open waters. With sustained winds of 185 mph and gusts of up to 220 mph, it was the most powerful storm ever observed in that region. They called it Hurricane Linda.

She made all the papers, even in Kentucky, where West Coast clothing exporter Myung Kwon Cho was among the many in attendance at the annual September sale of yearlings at Keeneland. Cho was already on the racing map as the man who finished fourth in the 1990 Kentucky Derby with longshot Video Ranger, beaten only by Unbridled, Summer Squall, and Pleasant Tap. When Cho made the successful bid of $62,000 for a Summer Squall filly out of a mare by The Axe II, he was inspired by the power of the fierce Pacific storm. In tribute, he named her Squall Linda.

So much for the news from the Weather Channel. Squall Linda turned out to be a decent racehorse, with three wins from 17 starts and a second in Santa Anita's Monrovia Handicap. Her true legacy may be only emerging, however, with the ongoing progress of her son Street Hero, by Street Cry, who will be carrying Cho's colors on Sunday in Oak Tree's 39th running of the Norfolk Stakes.

Cho is 66, has five children, and is a self-admitted dreamer. Call him Myung Kwon Quixote. The characteristic helps if you are in the racing business, but it is an absolute necessity if you are going to leave your native land in your mid-30s and start a new life in a foreign country. Cho was on his own when he arrived in Los Angeles, in 1978.

"The same year Affirmed won the Triple Crown," he said, tipping his hand. Obviously, he already had the right priorities.

"I was actually born in North Korea," Cho said. "But my father did not like the Communists. He had a really good life in North Korea, but he left everything behind and he took our family to the South when I was 2 or 3.

"I grew up during the Korean wartime," Cho went on. "It was very bad, but the Americans really helped my country. My dream was that I wanted to come to the United States, so finally that's what I did. Everybody has an American dream, and that was mine."

It was not too long before Cho's clothing business was going strong. Soon, he was dabbling in horse ownership, and when $40,000 bought him Video Ranger at the claim box, he was hooked for good. Cho eventually took the leap into training his own horses.

"Even though he only trains horses he owns, he's got to pass the same examinations as any applicant for the license," said Tom Ward, one of the Oak Tree stewards. "As for handling his business, we never really hear of any problems. I truly can't remember the last time we had to talk with him about anything. And he does seem to come up with a nice horse on a pretty regular basis."

One of them was Nationalore, a son of Video Ranger, who finished second in five of his first eight starts as a 2-year-old in 1997. The next thing anyone knew, Cho had entered Nationalore in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park. Off at 40-1, Nationalore finished third to Favorite Trick.

Nationalore went on to run third to Real Quiet in the Hollywood Futurity, and then was ninth at 109-1 the following year in Real Quiet's Kentucky Derby, when Cho tried again to catch lightning with a longshot. The end came for Nationalore on a July afternoon at Hollywood Park, during the summer of 2000, when he clipped heels, fell, and fractured a shoulder in the 26th start of his career. He was euthanized, and he was still a maiden, with earnings of more than $300,000.

"He had to be put down," Cho said. "It was very sad, but for the best. I didn't teach him anything, but he did teach me a lot."

No one who has followed the Cho show is surprised that Street Hero, making his fifth start on Sunday, is still a maiden. In his most recent start, Cho's colt came flying at the end of the Del Mar Futurity to lose by just three-quarters of a length, behind the closely knit Midshipman and Coronet of a Baron. Alex Solis, who rode Street Hero that day, will be aboard again Sunday.

"They don't know they're a maiden," Solis said after the Del Mar race. "The way he was running, he fits right there with these."

With help at the barn from assistant Maria Ayala, Cho is able to divide his time between his horses and his business. Lately, though, he's had little else but Street Hero on his mind.

"He's a big, nice horse, and he's training well," Cho said. "I like to train for distance, and I think more distance for him will be better.

"I would love to run in the Breeders' Cup," Cho added. "But first, let's see what kind of horse he is on Sunday. Maybe my dream is coming true."