10/09/2005 11:00PM

Captain Squire back on the map

Captain Squire, with Alex Solis, after winning the Ancient Title BC.

ARCADIA, Calif. - They crossed paths once before, back in April of 2004 in the San Francisco Mile, when Singletary was a colt of increasing promise and Captain Squire was no longer the horse of his youth.

The decision went to Singletary, by three-quarters of a length, with Captain Squire a game but conclusively beaten second. Six months later, Singletary stood in the winner's circle at Lone Star Park, victorious in the Breeders' Cup Mile, while Captain Squire had disappeared from the racing landscape, all but forgotten.

That was then. This is now, and wow, did they put on a show last Saturday, sweeping Oak Tree's final Santa Anita Park preps for the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park.

Singletary dominated his opposition in the Oak Tree Mile, practically eased at the line, Borrego-style, efficiently setting the stage for his title defense in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Captain Squire, on the other hand, had to empty the tank in order to win the by half a length, igniting speculation that he could be making a return visit to the Breeders' Cup Sprint at the ripening age of 6.

For those who keep track of such arbitrary designations, the Ancient Title marked the first victory for owners Bob Bone and Jeff Diener in a race referred to as "Grade 1" by the Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association of Kentucky.

For those who appreciate a nail-biting, six-furlong gut check by an old pro being given a second chance, the Ancient Title could have been called Grade 2, Grade 8, or Grade AA Extra Large. Wouldn't matter. Captain Squire's performance deserves the loftiest kind of praise, unmeasurable in terms of numbers, figs, or grades.

In a previous lifetime, Captain Squire won the Turf Paradise Derby, the Sunshine Millions Sprint, the Lazaro Barrera Handicap, and finished third in the 2003 Golden Shaheen in Dubai. He was also second in the 2003 version of the Ancient Title, then ran seventh three weeks later in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"He's really the first good horse I owned," said Bone, whose successful claiming stable is beginning to sprout stakes horses with regularity. "So I'll remember every one of his races."

For the general racing public, however, Captain Squire was becoming yesterday's news. His 2004 San Francisco Mile was followed by two more losses, both in company he should have handled, and that was enough. X-rays revealed bone chips in a knee, and Captain Squire was sent to Florida, where Bone owns a training and lay-up facility in partnership with Richard Fuller.

During the surgery to remove the chips, a small fracture in the knee was revealed. The prognosis was good, and the knee healed accordingly. There was more, however, to the recovery. After three solid years at the racetrack, skylarking and socializing with the gang at the Jeff Mullins barn, Captain Squire suddenly found himself isolated in a pasture, a lonely warrior without a job.

"He was hanging his head, his coat wouldn't turn - it was almost like he was depressed," Bone said. "Richard decided he was craving attention, so he moved him to a paddock near their house. His wife and daughter started feeding and playing with him every day. The horse perked right up, and when Richard went to training him, he was better than ever. After his second five-eighths, Richard told me, 'This horse has another Breeders' Cup in him.' "

Mullins was similarly impressed, and now that the Ancient Title proved them right, Bone, as majority owner, finds himself faced with one of those sticky management decisions.

"I've done the math," Bone said. "Between shipping, fees, everything else, if you win the Breeders' Cup Sprint you make about $350,000. I don't mean to sound negative, but unless you have a breeding prospect - and we don't - that's not a lot of money to win the toughest sprint in the world."

Bone is looking at the seven-furlong Sport Page Handicap on the Breeders' Cup undercard as a viable option, while reserving the right to change his mind. Looming large over his decision, of course, will be the ongoing health and welfare of the prerace favorite for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

"I don't see any dimension that Lost in the Fog doesn't have," Bone said. "That's the trouble. Do you go after him early? Do you wait and make a run? It looks like no matter what you do, that horse can adjust."

Fond memories of Phone Trick

Richard Mandella once said this about Phone Trick:

"He had an action that was as good as any horse I've ever seen. So fluid, athletic. He had a stride that was as big as a horse that would run a mile and a quarter, and he could get that stride together faster than any horse I've ever seen. He had one more gear than most horses. Unreal speed."

The death of Phone Trick at age 23 on Monday at a New York farm brought back a lot of good memories for Mandella, who owned Phone Trick in partnership with Howell Wynne and Larry DeAngelis.

The fact that Mandella never got to run Phone Trick in a Breeders' Cup Sprint was tough, because he wanted to show the racing world what he called Phone Trick's "freak dimension." What lingers sweetest is his record of nine wins in 10 starts, his bountiful stallion career, and the undeniable fact that a trainer - even a Hall of Famer - never forgets his first great horse.