10/23/2003 11:00PM

Distaff: Racing's a family affair for Dollases


ARCADIA, Calif. - Wally trains, assisted by his daughter, Aimee, whose brother, Craig, also trains. When their horses get hurt, sister Michele nurses them back to health. Cincy - Wally's wife, and the children's mother - handles the bookkeeping and social obligations. Meet the Dollases, who give rise to the notion that the family that races together, stays together.

The Dollases are genuinely, sincerely close to one another. In addition to spending a great deal of time together at the racetrack, they try to schedule regular Friday night dinners at a Mexican restaurant near Santa Anita. And they could be looking at an unprecedented celebration on Saturday night, if Craig and Wally can bookend the day with Breeders' Cup victories.

Craig will send out the 3-year-old filly Elloluv in the day's first Breeders' Cup race, the Distaff. Elloluv most recently crossed the wire second, behind Got Koko, in last month's Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap. That was her first start since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Oaks in May. She has won two Grade 1 races: the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland in April, and the Hollywood Starlet last December.

Several hours later, Wally will saddle Ten Most Wanted in the final Breeders' Cup race, the Classic. Both have legitimate shots.

"The thrills when you win, or when you have a good horse, it just means more when it's family," Aimee Dollase said. "On the other hand, the lows are lower. It hurts more. There's also a lot more motivation to work hard."

The work ethic has been there a long time. Wally and Cincy got married 38 years ago, three months after their first date, during which Wally told Cincy, "I'm going to marry you. You know that?" Wally had grown up on a ranch that was run by his father, Chet. Wally, in turn, ran Rio Vista Farm in Atascadero, Calif., where his and Cincy's children got their first exposure to horses.

"I would wish that life on every kid," Craig Dollase said, "to live on a farm, and get the opportunities like we did."

"They got hooked on the game," Wally said. "They love horses, and animals, like I do. I had the farm for 15 years. It grows on you."

Wally Dollase, 66, decided to give up the farm, move to Southern California, and train at the racetrack, beginning in 1984. The racing bug took hold.

The eldest daughter, Michele, 37, first trained on the track, then opened a successful facility in nearby Bradbury, Calif., that specializes in training horses recovering from injuries or in need of a freshening. She has three children with jockey Corey Nakatani, but they are divorcing.

Craig Dollase, 32, first worked as an assistant to his father, then went out on his own full time in 1997. One year later, he became the youngest trainer, at age 27, to win a Breeders' Cup race when Reraise won the Sprint at Churchill Downs. His wife, the former Nancy Carbajal, comes from a racing family. They have two small daughters.

Aimee Dollase, 30, has been her father's top assistant for the past six years. She is single.

"I've always loved horses, and loved the excitement of racing," Aimee Dollase said. "I don't know what I'd do without horses in my life. I'm lucky to have a career doing something I love."

The only family member not active in racing is daughter Carrie, 35, a nurse who delivers babies and lives with her husband and children in Palm Desert, Calif. They regularly attend major races and are at numerous family gatherings, like a Christmastime housewarming party that Craig and Nancy threw when they moved into a home in Arcadia last December.

Craig Dollase said that Michele was the one most interested in racing when the kids were growing up. He said his dream was to be a pro football player, but his playing days did not extend past some time at cornerback and a bit at quarterback for Arcadia High School.

"I went to college for a little bit, but once you get bit by the racing bug, that's it," Craig Dollase said. "My dad was my mentor."

Wally Dollase gave Craig a kick start to his career. When Wally took a job as a private trainer in 1997 with The Thoroughbred Corp., he encouraged his remaining clients to stick with Craig.

"We've got a good rapport together," Craig Dollase said. "We respect each other, and we are competitors, but we are a family, which is the way it should be."

The family bonds were tested by the association with The Thoroughbred Corp. Although Wally Dollase won the Breeders' Cup Distaff for that outfit with Jewel Princess in 1996, he had a strained relationship with Richard Mulhall, who oversaw The Thoroughbred Corp.'s business for Prince Ahmed bin Salman. When Mulhall fired Dollase in the spring of 1999, Wally and Aimee were out of work.

"That was difficult, the way it ended," Aimee Dollase said. "Fortunately, dad has a lot of confidence in himself."

Wally Dollase regrouped. He re-organized Horizon Stable, a partnership in which Wally takes a 5 to 10 percent ownership position in the horses he trains. Ten Most Wanted was purchased for Horizon as a 2-year-old for $145,000. This year, he has already won the Travers Stakes and Super Derby.

"We just had to hang in there together," Aimee Dollase said. "Now, we've ended up with this horse, and it's been a great ride."