02/09/2007 12:00AM

Blazing Desert's return a minor miracle

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ALBANY, Calif. - At a meet that has been the springboard to Sunshine Millions victories for McCann's Mojave and Smokey Stover, as well as the first step along the Triple Crown trail for Bwana Bull, the most amazing story of the Golden Gate Fields season may belong to Blazing Desert.

Blazing Desert, a 4-year-old gelding, will run in a $40,000 starter allowance Sunday as he tries to repeat his seven-length victory in a $20,000 maiden claimer on Jan. 25.

The race was Blazing Desert's first in more than 15 months after he sustained a broken left hind sesamoid and suspensory injuries while training. Stem cell treatment allowed the talented runner to return to the racetrack.

"His sesamoid cracked in half," said Lloyd Mason, the horse's owner, breeder, and trainer. "He had a better chance to recover with a hind [foot] than front, but this is probably the second most serious injury a horse can have.

"It might heal, but the horse probably could have never run again."

One of Mason's owners, Ed DeNike, had a show horse that had been saved by using stem cell treatment. He told Mason about the procedure, and Mason contacted Dr. David McDonald at the Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale, in the central San Joaquin Valley.

"It's not for everyone, and it's expensive to do," McDonald said. "We've done it with hunter-jumpers and dressage horses, but he was the first Thoroughbred we've ever done."

According to Mason, the procedure cost $2,500.

Extensive specialized X-rays showed that Blazing Desert might be a candidate for the stem cell treatment. Blazing Desert had significant damage to the suspensory, but it was concentrated enough that McDonald believed stem cells, which can heal and regenerate healthy tissue, had the potential to heal the gelding.

Stem cells can be extracted from bone marrow or fat. McDonald did a minor surgical procedure to remove some fat from near Blazing Desert's tail. Vet-Stem, a Southern California company, was able to extract stem cells from the fat and return them to McDonald to be implanted in the injured area 48 hours after the fat was removed.

McDonald said that Mason followed the recovery protocol precisely, which helped in the healing process. Mason would take Blazing Desert roughly 100 miles from Golden Gate Fields to Oakdale monthly as McDonald monitored the progress.

Finally, Blazing Desert was able to resume training, and when he returned to the races he seemed as good as new, winning as the favorite.

"I was ecstatic," Mason said. "He was training well going into the race, and it was pretty satisfying to see him run so well."

Blazing Desert will have to improve to get a repeat win. He will be facing Ikea Miner, a runner-up in both starts at the level since a brief freshener. Momotombo, stakes-placed as a 2-year-old, is also entered.