08/02/2004 12:00AM

Cooperstown Hero talented but fragile


SANTA ROSA, Calif. - It will be graduation day when racing resumes at the Sonoma County Fair on Wednesday, with five maiden races listed among the 10 races.

The most interesting race for winners is a six-furlong $12,500 claimer for horses that have never won twice. What makes the race interesting is the presence of Cooperstown Hero, who won his debut as a 5-year-old in a bottom-level $8,000 maiden claimer on March 6 at Golden Gate Fields.

A first-time starter that old usually has had more than his share of problems, and Cooperstown Hero certain qualifies.

"It's pretty obvious he's not the soundest of horses," trainer Bob Hess said.

But his wire-to-wire victory in 1:10 earned him a 77 Beyer, which only one of his seven rivals, Cee Till Dawn, has surpassed.

In 2000 as a yearling, Cooperstown Hero was a $185,000 purchase at the select sale at Saratoga.

"If a horse can run, you don't mind waiting," Hess said after that debut victory.

And waiting is something the patient Hess does well.

Owner David Shimmon originally sent Cooperstown Hero to D. Wayne Lukas as a 2-year-old, but he couldn't sustain training and was shipped out to a farm.

Hess got Cooperstown Hero as a 3-year-old and said he was ready to run after working six furlongs in 1:11 and change. But a mishap sidelined him for eight months.

By this point, Shimmon wanted out and offered Cooperstown Hero to Hess in lieu of his training bills.

Hess had the then 4-year-old back in training when he popped a splint in July 2003. The splint was pin fired but then got infected, meaning another trip to the sidelines.

Hess was pleased with Cooperstown Hero's debut win and planned to stretch him out, but after a five-furlong work and six-furlong work, he suffered another mishap and was unable to work for three months.

"He has a suspensory and other problems besides," Hess said.

Four works later, including a six-furlong work in a bullet 1:12.40, has Cooperstown Hero ready for his second race.

"I would rather work him again, but sometimes I think you're better off running," Hess said. "We know he's got talent, but we have two questions: is he fit enough and is he sound enough?"

Cooperstown Hero seems to have a pace advantage, and his outside draw is a plus.

In addition to Cee Till Dawn, Cooperstown Hero's primary contenders include Gibford, recent maiden winner Mac's Golden Lad, Log On, and Moon Snow, who has a win and two seconds at bush tracks in Oregon.