04/25/2002 11:00PM

Defying all logic, Fit for a King keeps winning


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Fit for a King should not be in the $175,000 Khaled Stakes at Hollywood Park on Sunday. With his history, such an appearance does not seem logical.

A 9-year-old with as many injuries over the years as a veteran linebacker is not typically found in the entries of rich stakes for statebred turf milers. They are supposed to be found in cheap claimers at minor tracks.

Also, such old geldings are not supposed to be riding a seven-race winning streak, but giving their connections hope that they can maybe win once in seven starts.

None of it makes sense about Fit for a King, which makes his presence in the competitive Khaled Stakes even more special to the bettors who have sent him off favored five times during the current 14-month winning streak and to his co-owner and trainer, Moon Han.

"He's been a better horse than last year," Han said. "He doesn't show his age."

The current winning streak, the longest of any horse in training in Southern California, has been limited to turf sprints - over 5 1/2 furlongs at Hollywood Park and over about 6 1/2 furlongs on the hillside turf course at Santa Anita.

In six of those races Fit for a King was available to be claimed for prices of $62,500 to $80,000.

He won twice at Santa Anita in March 2001 and twice at Hollywood Park last April and May. He injured a sesamoid last May, which kept him out of training until February of this year.

Han said he well remembers the race in May 2001 - a win at even-money with Laffit Pincay, Jr., aboard and that Fit for a King needed to be vanned off afterward.

"By the time I did an interview, I knew he was hurting," Han said. "When I was still there, I noticed he wouldn't go on the truck. I led him to the ambulance or he wouldn't go on."

This year, in three appearances at Santa Anita, Fit for a King has kept it close. He scored by a half-length on Feb. 24, by a neck on March 14, and by a neck on April 5 in an allowance race/optional claimer.

That he even made it back from a sesamoid injury suffered last May is a source of pride for Han.

Fit for a King is Han's only horse, but enough of a star to justify the daily 50-mile one-way drive from his home in Mission Viejo in California. Han said his appearance each morning is usually an event.

"He has character, and he recognizes me when he sees me," Han said. "He's really happy. He'll stick his neck out and makes a sound. Other grooms and my neighbors come out and think something is wrong."

Han has owned Fit for a King since January 1997 when he and co-owner Won Roh claimed him with trainer Craig Dollase for $32,000.

Bred by Golden Eagle Farm, Fit for a King is by General Meeting, one of the state's top sires. He is out of the Torsion mare Princess Torsion, who had an undistinguished career on the racetrack. Aside from Fit for a King, her only notable foal is the veteran Fiesta del Sol, a winner of 13 races and $216,954.

Early in his career, Fit for a King bounced around the claiming stables in Southern California. At 3, he won his second race in a $20,000 claimer at Hollywood Park in November 1996, the day he was claimed by Mike Mitchell from Peter Levine.

Two races later, after he failed to win a $32,000 claimer as the even-money favorite, Dollase, Roh, and Han jumped in.

Fit for a King won an allowance race for California-breds in his first start for them, but afterward needed a 10-month break.

"We thought the horse was a little off, and we gave him time off and sent him to the farm for three or four months," Han said. "When he was ready to run, we stopped again. We did surgery on both knees, taking chips out."

While trained by Dollase, Fit for a King bounced among high-priced claimers, allowance races, and the occasional stakes for statebreds.

At 5, Fit for a King won two races in the summer of 1998, an allowance race at Hollywood Park, and a $62,500 claimer at Del Mar before finishing fifth as the favorite in the California Turf Championship at Bay Meadows.

Fit for a King made one more start start for Dollase in May 1999 before Han launched his training career. At the time, Han, 51, owned a dry cleaning business, which he has since sold.

In his first year with Han as trainer, Fit for a King pulled an upset in a one-mile turf race for $55,000 claimers at Santa Anita in September 1999 but injured a cannon bone in the California Cup Mile a month later. He has not lost since.

Through the winning streak, Dollase, the former trainer, has watched with admiration.

"He runs as honest as the day is long," Dollase said. "That horse has a heart of gold. Mr. Han has taken his time. He's spotted him right, and that's the key. This race coming up might be a test, but he's done well so far."

The Khaled Stakes will be Fit for a King's fifth start in a stakes, and is a big jump in class from the durable turf sprinters that he has faced in recent starts. The Khaled is led by the multiple stakes winners Native Desert and Spinelessjellyfish, who have dominated the statebred turf stakes in recent years.

Fit for a King has never won a stakes, but Han is ready to take a chance. He mentioned the Khaled Stakes in the winner's circle at Santa Anita on April 5.

"I don't think it will be difficult for him," Han said. "He won over 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar from the 10 hole. That's difficult to do at Del Mar from the outside. Three years ago, he didn't beat much, but he won at Santa Anita over one mile.

"I've been running 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 furlongs because that's available. The distance is not a problem."

Judging from Fit for a King's past, neither is courage.