05/24/2006 11:00PM

Atlantic crossing just the ticket

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The American West has been hailed as a great place for second chances. This makes it a perfect setting for Milk It Mick, a horse with a roller-coaster career and a big closing kick.

He was a British star at 2 who dropped off the radar screen, only to re-emerge this winter in California, shades and sunglasses in place, to become one of the top middle-distance grass horses in a very tough 2006 American division for trainer Jim Cassidy and owners Paul and Yvette Dixon. Milk It Mick's victory in the Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita in March has been followed by a pair of gallant thirds, most recently in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.

Now he will be tested again on Monday, Memorial Day, at Hollywood Park against the likes of Silent Name, Willow O Wisp, Diamond Green, and Charmo in the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile.

At first glance, his record looks like it belongs to some other kind of animal playing a much different game. Milk It Mick, a homebred son of French star Millkom, started 12 times as a 2-year-old - as many as the last three American male juvenile champions combined - while winning five under the guidance of trainer Jamie Osborne.

"He's a very tough horse," Dixon said this week, underlining the obvious. "He was a horse that always wanted to please you, and wanted to go as fast as he could as quick as he could. To take a bit of gas out of him we ran him a few times. But we only realized in his last two races as a 2-year-old how to ride him."

Dixon gives the credit to Pat Eddery, the 11-time British riding champion, who was barely a month away from his retirement in October of 2003 when he threw a leg over Milk It Mick for the one and only time in the seven-furlong Tattersalls Stakes at Newmarket. After a rocky start, Eddery clamped down on the fiery colt and kept him well back, then came running to win by a neck.

"Pat couldn't ride him in the Dewhurst, but he told Darryll Holland that was the way to ride the horse," Dixon noted. "And it turned out to be one of the strongest Dewhursts we've ever had."

Dixon is guilty of understatement again. In winning the 2003 running of Newmarket's prestigious Dewhurst by a head, Milk It Mick defeated a field that included the subsequent winners of the English 2000 Guineas (Haafhd), the Irish 2000 Guineas (Bachelor Duke), and the Middle Park Stakes (Three Valleys), as well as Antonius Pius, the unlucky second in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile. Not surprisingly, Mick was overlooked at 33-1.

"The horse didn't know what price he was," Dixon said. "But we didn't complain."

Unfortunately, Milk It Mick's budding reputation never flowered at 3 and 4, as he went eight starts without a win.

"He probably should never have run as a 3-year-old," Dixon said. "Jamie had a virus in his yard, and the horse lost a lot of condition. Then coming out at 4, he was sabotaged at Chester Race Course. Somebody put a cottonball wad up his nose. The Jockey Club is still investigating that. After that he never really recovered."

Dixon raced the filly Singhalese in England and kept a 20 percent stake when she migrated to Cassidy clients in California. Last summer she was good enough to win the Del Mar Oaks.

"I came over for that race and visited Jim's barn," Dixon said. "I liked what I saw, how he cared for the horses." Milk It Mick arrived last fall.

The Dixon runners fly the colors and logo of his P.A. Business Systems, a computer and Internet technology company based in the northeast of England, where the Dixons run their Haygarth House Stud near the village of Babworth.

"When Milk It Mick won the Dewhurst, he was on the back page of the national newspapers," Dixon said, which is good, since the back page of a tabloid is usually the front page of the sports section. "You couldn't afford that sort of coverage if you had to buy it."

Dixon gives his wife the bulk of the credit for running their Thoroughbred enterprise. They have had horses for 20 years.

"I first bought a leg in a horse, then ended up buying the whole horse eventually," said the 47-year-old Dixon, who played semi-pro soccer in his younger days. "That was Milk It Mick's mother, Lunar Music. Now we have our own stud with about 40 or 50 horses in training. If you don't watch it, you do end up collecting them."

And naming them. Milk It Mick traces to a family holiday on Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, when Lunar Music's Millkom foal was back at home in Babworth.

"My friend Mick and I went down to the beach to play some football with our sons and have a few beers," Dixon explained. "When we came back a few hours later than we should, his wife said, 'You really know how to milk it, Mick.' My wife didn't hesitate. 'That's it. That's the name for the horse.' "

Dixon hopes the Shoemaker is another step toward a run at the Breeders' Cup Mile, this year at Churchill Downs, as well as a chance to display Milk It Mick's credentials as a stallion.

"Just like he did as a 2-year-old," Dixon said, "he's got us dreaming again."