04/02/2004 12:00AM

Colt dodges death, injury to succeed


ARCADIA, Calif. - The rise of McCann's Mojave to the status of multiple stakes winner this year at Santa Anita would have seemed improbable at times.

His dam, Joni U. Bar, was 20 when she foaled McCann's Mojave, having suffered through a severe bout of colic the previous year that resulted in the loss of a foal.

After McCann's Mojave was born, the colt was rushed to an equine hospital, suffering from diarrhea that left him in critical condition. The incident caused him to be weaned from his dam earlier than normal.

When he finally got to the races in December 2002, McCann's Mojave won his first three starts, but he was sidelined last spring when he was found to have bone chips in both knees. The injury ended any hope for an attempt at the lucrative 3-year-old races.

This year, there have been no setbacks. After finishing seventh in an allowance race in his first start of the year on Jan. 24, McCann's Mojave won consecutive stakes - the Sensational Star Handicap for statebreds on Feb. 14 and the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap on March 28. He will go for a triple in the Tiznow Stakes for statebreds at Hollywood Park on April 24.

Despite the incident as a foal, McCann's Mojave has had his share of luck. He was near the front throughout the Potrero Grande and was in front of Casas Caballo when that colt broke down, causing a two-horse spill.

"It's been a miracle," co-owner and breeder Mike Willman said.

Willman, well-known as a racing television and radio commentator in Southern California, and his partner, Nikki Hunt, had modest expectations when they acquired Joni U. Bar in the late 1990's. At the time, Joni U. Bar had produced several winners, but no stakes winners.

The episode with colic nearly killed Joni U. Bar, Willman said.

"I bought her when she was 17. She was barren," Willman said. "We bred her to Memo and she took, but she colicked. The vet didn't think she'd last the night.

"He said, 'What do you want me to do?' I said, 'You know what you're doing.' The next morning he called and said, 'You won't believe it. She's up.' That was the good news, but she'd lost the foal.'

"We bred her back to Memo. This horse is the result. She was 20 when he hit the ground."

Willman had followed Joni U. Bar's career closely in the 1980's. The mare had a successful career with Leonard Dorfman, winning 16 races. Dorfman, 81, trains McCann's Mojave.

"She had leg problems, but I never ran her when she was sore," Dorfman said of Joni U. Bar. "We had to give her a lot of time. One year at Del Mar, she won three races."

Rick Arthur, the prominent veterinarian, owned Joni U. Bar at the end of her racing career. He bred her to several stallions before she was sold to Willman and Hunt.

"They could all run, but it got more difficult to get her in foal," Dorfman said.

Joni U. Bar has not had a foal since McCann's Mojave. This year, an attempt has been made to breed her to Unusual Heat, but Willman is on the verge of abandoning those plans and retiring her.

"Quite frankly, the store is closed," Willman said. "We've got to take this shot, but I'd like to let her live her life out in Riverside."

McCann's Mojave is named for Cecil McCann, who lives near Willman's home in the desert. McCann looks after Willman's property in his absence, but refuses to be compensated.

"The only form of payment he will accept is Budweiser," Willman said. "I said, 'Cecil, I'll name a horse for you.' He's getting such a kick out of it."