04/29/2008 11:00PM

Does she belong? Absolutely


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Pop quiz time. Multiple choice. What do you do with a homebred filly out of a $12,500 mare who won her maiden in open company at Keeneland going 1 1/8 miles, won a stakes over a route of ground at Churchill Downs, and then beat the boys in another stakes in March of her 3-year-old season?

(a) Quit while you're ahead

(b) Sell her, quick

(c) Run her in the Kentucky Oaks

The filly in question is Absolutely Cindy, the pride of Dry Ridge, Ky. (pop., 2,100 and change). Keith Kinmon is her owner, breeder, and trainer, and while he never remotely considered (a) or (b), despite earnings and offers beyond his wildest dreams, he is definitely jumping into choice (c) with giddy abandon.

Despite her morning-line odds of 20-1, Absolutely Cindy will have more than her share of moral support when she runs on Friday in the 134th edition of the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks. Kinmon is one of nine brothers and sisters hailing from northern Kentucky's Grant County, and he has five sons of his own. What with any number of in-laws named Simpson and outlaws from Kinmon's posse at the Dry Ridge Waffle House, the cheering section might be heard even above the huge Oaks crowd if Absolutely Cindy uncorks anything resembling her trademark closing punch.

"It's a deep race, no doubt," Kinmon, 52, said Wednesday morning as he watched his filly go round and round the Churchill Downs main track under exercise rider Jeremy Roetting. "But if she's doing as good as I think she's doing, and if she handles the track like she seems to be handling it, well . . ."

If, brother. If. It's the toughest two-letter word in horse racing. But there is no accounting for the stunning and truly weird this time each year. Horses come from every direction save outer space, driven by their people to make some kind of impression on either the first Friday or first Saturday in May. And if something looks like such an achingly awful longshot to even make the course, let alone win, those dreamers simply mumble something that sounds like "Giacomo" ($102.60 in the 2005 Derby) or "Lemons Forever" ($96.20 in the 2006 Oaks) and leave it at that.

Kinmon, the son of a truck driver who made his money selling land, is the first guy to admit that the idea of Absolutely Cindy winning the filly classic is pretty preposterous, especially given her family history. At some point, though, the stories no longer matter. It's the horse that counts. And in the case of Absolutely Cindy, she has earned her way with 3 wins, 2 seconds, and 3 thirds in 12 starts, including a win in the John Battaglia Memorial against colts at Turfway Park.

Even so, it is difficult to get past the tale of Ms. Boucheron, a daughter of Buckpasser's son L'Enjoleur. Absolutely Cindy is her first foal, hitting the ground when the mare was 16. Yes, 16.

"I can tell you the date I claimed her - Dec. 4, 1991, at Turfway Park," Kinmon said. "I'd done the research and I liked her pedigree. She'd already won sprinting in Detroit, and L'Enjoleur was a route horse who also won early. Up until then I owned horses, but my trainers said that wouldn't be for long because I was so nosy. She was the first one I trained on my own, and I probably made just about every mistake you could. But I learned a lot from her."

It was not a crash course. Ms. Boucheron ran 79 times for Kinmon before she said "no mas," then spent the next six years off and on trying to have a foal. (A one-race "comeback" along the way was fruitless.) As a mama, the best she could do was abort twins.

"I never had any intention of being a breeder," Kinmon said. "By then we had a farm, and as far as I was concerned she could have stayed with us as a pet for as long as she was around.

"Then one day I saw her standing funny," Kinmon went on. "I knew every pimple on her, and something wasn't right. I jumped off the mower and ran to her, and she had a deep cut on her hip, like an 'L,' that she ripped open on a metal gate. It was late at night. I couldn't get a vet, couldn't get her to a clinic, so I turned her out in a grass field where she couldn't lay down in the dirt. The next day my vet came out, flushed the wound, sewed it up and put a tube in there, and she survived it. I told my wife, 'I'm gonna breed that mare. There's just something about her.' "

With the help of Lexington breeder Christine Hanson, Ms. Boucheron got in foal to the Kris S. stallion Arch and delivered a healthy bay filly on May 28, 2005. She was named for Kinmon's wife, and the filly was a racehorse from the start, finishing second in her maiden voyage to fellow Oaks competitor Pure Clan at Ellis Park last August.

"I seem to give my wife plenty of reasons to get mad at me," Kinmon confessed. "When she does, I always say, 'Absolutely, Cindy.'

"I walked away from training for a while and was concentrating on other things," he added. "Then, when this filly came along, I started back in, because I knew I was going to be the one to train her. What I didn't figure on was being in the Kentucky Oaks. But it was the filly who took me here."