03/11/2011 2:41PM

California Flag put breeder on top

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Benoit & Associates
Keith Card

ARCADIA, Calif. – Keith Card, the California Thoroughbred breeder who died on Tuesday in Murrieta, Calif., at the age of 83, found himself briefly at the center of the racing world in the fall of 2009.

California Flag, a gelding he bred at Hi Card Ranch in Murrietta with his wife, Barbara, had just given Card the greatest win of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita, and the moment left the owner-breeder delightfully stunned.

“It’s awesome,” he told the press pack after the race. “I’m humbled by the experience, really am.”

Card, who served as president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association in 2005, was slowed in recent years by the effects of a stroke, but still managed to attend racing on occasion in the last year. Enshrined into the California Racing Hall of Fame, Card was at Del Mar last summer to see California Flag’s win in the Green Flash Handicap.

“I got to know him in the last four years,” Brian Koriner, California Flag’s trainer, told Santa Anita publicity on Friday. “We got to live a dream together. He loved the animals and the people. The Breeders’ Cup was an exclamation point.”

California Flag, 7, has earned $1,166,504 in his career, racing in the United States, Dubai, and Hong Kong. Last March, California Flag was third in the Al Quoz Sprint on turf in Dubai. The gelding shared the 2009 California-bred Horse of the Year award with Dancing in Silks.

A native of Montana who served in the Navy in World War II, Card got his first involvement with racing through Quarter Horses. He shifted to Thoroughbreds in 1964.

Card’s Hi Card Ranch raised only a few foals a years, but had major success at times. He won the inaugural California Cup Distaff in 1990 with Linda Card, who won 8 of 33 starts and $340,318. Another horse Card bred, Shirkee, won the 1991 California Cup Mile, although Card had lost the horse through a $16,000 claim earlier in his career. In 1993, Card won the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap with Freedom Cry, his only win at that level.

Being inducted into the California Racing Hall of Fame was a proud achievement, according to the CTBA’s general manager, Doug Burge. “That excitement kept a smile on his face for two solid days,” Burge said in a statement.

Owner-breeder John Fradkin boarded horses at Hi Card Ranch, and owns Ultra Fleet, the dam of California Flag. Fradkin did not plan to breed Ultra Fleet in the spring of 2003, so Card asked if he could breed her.

“He said, ‘If you’re not going to breed her, can I?’ “ Fradkin recalled on Friday. “It was done on a friendly, handshake basis. He liked the baby.

“That’s how he became the breeder of California Flag. When the baby was born and he was registering the breeding, he said, ‘Should I put you down as the co-breeder?’ I said, ‘No, you paid the stud fee.’

Fradkin and his wife Diane have since bred Ultra Fleet.

“He had a lot of fun throughout his life,” John Fradkin said of Card. “That Breeders’ Cup win was perhaps one of his crowning achievements as far as happiness goes. Given his health, he still had a lot of fun in the last three years of his life.”

Fradkin continues to board horses at Hi Card Ranch.

“I’ll sure miss him,” Fradkin said. “I’m glad he got to accomplish a lot in the horse racing business.”

A memorial service will be held at Hi Card Ranch, 19050 Alborado Ave., Murrieta, on March 19 at 2 p.m.