04/06/2007 12:00AM

Breeders reclaim 8-year-old Debonair Joe


ARCADIA, Calif. - Joe Valenti finally got his wish at Santa Anita on Wednesday.

For nearly a year, Valenti and trainer Craig Lewis had debated whether to claim Debonair Joe, an 8-year-old gelding they bred. They raced him in 2001-02.

Wednesday, Lewis and Valenti agreed to claim the California-bred Debonair Joe for $40,000 and then watched him win a six-furlong race.

"I've wanted to claim him for a long time," Valenti said Thursday, but he said Lewis wasn't sure. "Finally, he listened to me. I felt he was going to win and he did. I just liked the horse, and I've always liked him."

Debonair Joe's victory Wednesday was the ninth of his 47-race career, which began in 2001 and includes two graded wins - the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood Stakes and Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in consecutive starts in December 2002.

At the time, Debonair Joe had been trained by Juan Pablo Silva for three months after being taken in a $12,500 claiming race from Valenti and Lewis at Fairplex Park in September 2002.

While losing an eventual Grade 1 winner was a setback, it was not as if Valenti and Lewis were completely left out. They still received breeder awards as Debonair Joe's career progressed.

Debonair Joe has never regained the form of those stakes wins. He has placed in six stakes since December 2002, including a runner-up finish in the California Cup Sprint at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting last October.

In January, Debonair Joe was claimed by Cecil and Gary Barber and trainer Peter Miller for $40,000. In four starts for them, ending with Wednesday's win, Debonair Joe earned $61,631.

"He made us a lot of money," Miller said.

Wednesday's race was the first time that Debonair Joe had appeared in a claiming race since he was claimed by the Barbers. Miller feared they might lose the gelding.

Lewis, well known as the owner-trainer of 1995 Santa Anita Derby winner Larry the Legend, said he is somewhat in awe of what Debonair Joe has accomplished through his career.

"Any horse that can survive in this game until they're 8 and keep winning is a remarkable animal," Lewis said. "Every time he's run for a claim, we thought about claiming him back. In horse racing and life there are a lot of similarities: you can't say you're not going to do this. Joe Valenti and I bred the horse and we've always been very fond of him. He's a neat horse, a warrior, and we have deep respect for him."

Valenti said he is taking a cautious approach to Debonair Joe's future, and has not ruled out retiring him to Warren's Thoroughbreds in Hemet, Calif., where Valenti keeps his horses. Valenti's farm, Mira Loma Thoroughbred Farm, was sold for development earlier this decade.

"He won't run in any more claimers," Valenti said. "I'll retire him if I have to."

Valenti said that Debonair Joe will be given a physical, including X-rays, to check his condition.

"I don't like to rush my horses," he said. "I want to give them 30 to 45 days. He probably won't run until Hollywood."

When he does, Debonair Joe will be back with the men who started his remarkable career.