03/31/2003 1:00AM

Does apple fall far from the Hall?


ARCADIA, Calif. - John Veitch was asked to think back to the summer of 1977, when he trained the horses of Calumet Farm. He was more than happy to comply.

After all, that was the year Our Mims reigned as the best 3-year-old filly in the land. It was the beginning of Alydar, and his emerging rivalry with Affirmed. And it was the summer that Veitch's father, Sylvester Veitch, became a member of the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.

"There was a Saturday when I was with Alydar at Monmouth Park to run in the Sapling," Veitch recalled, "while on the same day back at Saratoga, my father was putting the tack on Our Mims in the Alabama. They both won."

It was hardly fair, having a Hall of Famer as "assistant" trainer, but the Veitch boys were accustomed to the altitude. Their professional lives had been spent handling the best of the breed, issued from the nurseries of C.V. Whitney, George Widener, Paul Mellon, and Lucille Markey. For them, winning the Sapling and the Alabama in a single afternoon was shooting par on a very tough course.

It will be such golden days that weigh strongly in John Veitch's favor as voting concludes this week in the election of new members to the Hall of Fame. If he wins a plurality from the 151 voters - who vary from the traditional racing press to television commentators and popular authors - Veitch will complete a rare generational parlay.

Led by the Burch family dynasty of W.P., Preston, and Elliott, the list of father-son Hall of Famers includes only Max Hirsch and his son Buddy, Ben Jones and his son Jimmy, Marion Van Berg and his son Jack, and Carey Winfrey and his stepson Bill.

In order to join his father in the Union Avenue shrine at Saratoga Springs, Veitch, at 57, must outpoll the late Sonny Hine and the 75-year-old Mel Stute. It won't be easy.

Hine trained for more than 30 years and left an indelible mark on the game with Skip Away, the 1998 Horse of the Year who won more than $9 million. Stute, who trained his first winner in 1948, has the loyal support of the outnumbered West Coast Hall of Fame voting bloc, not to mention a resume that includes champions Snow Chief and Brave Raj, as well as Breeders' Cup winner Very Subtle.

"I remember the day my father was elected to the Hall of Fame," Veitch said. "It was the proudest day of his life, and it certainly would be mine, if it ever happens. I'm honored just to be considered."

In some ways, Veitch is a little surprised he is remembered at all. The last decade has not been kind. By the time he reached his early 40's, he already had assembled his most compelling Hall of Fame credentials with runners like Alydar, Our Mims, Davona Dale, Proud Truth, Before Dawn, and Sunshine Forever.

But his work as private, salaried trainer, first for Calumet and then John Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm, took place at the end of an era. As the 1980's drew to a close, a new racing world was dawning, to be dominated by the large, transcontinental public stables created by Wayne Lukas, Bill Mott, Bob Baffert, and Bobby Frankel.

"When I was hired by Mr. Galbreath," Veitch recalled, "he told me, 'Now look, this is not my business. My business is real estate. This is my sport, and I want you to conduct it so that I can enjoy it, and eventually get a particular kind of horse. If you try to skimp, and try to save me a nickel or a dollar, you're not doing the job I want you to do.' "

Trainers today could hardly imagine such freedom from the bottom line. Essentially, Veitch was given the paint and the brushes and told, "Now go and paint a Sistine Chapel."

"It took time, and certainly a lot of treasure, to have that attitude," Veitch said. "But in the long run, for those people, it paid off."

In 1999, Veitch took a job training privately for Prince Faisel bin Khalid, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister whose grandfather was the first king of the unified Arabian tribes. For a year, Veitch worked and lived in Riyadh, training racehorses within 500 miles of the Iraqi border.

"I was treated very well," Veitch said. "The only downside for a Westerner is that there's so little to do, other than your work. And, of course, back home you don't see police or soldiers walking the streets carrying sub-machine guns.

"I had no restrictions on where I could travel," Veitch went on, "although I had with me at all times a letter from Prince Faisel's office saying that I was a special person who could go anywhere in the kingdom. There would be roaming military checkpoints - one day here, one day there - where you'd be stopped and asked for your passport."

Veitch is now busy rebuilding another stable with a rich history, this time for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony, who a decade ago won the Preakness back to back with Pine Bluff and Prairie Bayou.

"We'll have a few young horses at Belmont Park, those who are ready to run," Veitch said.

He will train the rest of the stable at Saratoga, where, in his spare time, Veitch can visit his father's plaque at the Hall of Fame. By early May, he will know if there will be one to call his own.