05/01/2003 12:00AM

Dollase headed back toward top


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It was late one Saturday afternoon in March 1999 and trainer Wally Dollase was sitting in his Santa Anita barn office going over charts with his daughter and assistant trainer, Aimee, when the phone rang.

On the other end of the line was Richard Mulhall, president of The Thoroughbred Corporation, for whom Dollase had taken a private job in December 1997. When Dollase hung up, he turned to Aimee and said "I've just been fired.''

Dollase was only 15 months into a three-year contract as the private trainer for Prince Ahmed bin Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp., for whom Dollase helped develop runners such as 1996 champion older mare Jewel Princess, Sharp Cat, and Windsharp. But apparently, Prince Salman wanted more.

"It was such a shock to all of us because we truly didn't see it coming,'' said Cincy Dollase, Wally's wife of 37 years. "You put all your eggs in one basket and your basket is empty. We were used to eating three meals a day and living in a house. Now we had no income.''

Fast forward four years and another spring Saturday afternoon - the spring Saturday afternoon in horse racing - has arrived. By sundown Saturday, Dollase's fortunes may have come full circle and his family's basket could be overflowing with roses.

Dollase, will saddle Illinois Derby winner Ten Most Wanted in Saturday's 129th Kentucky Derby. Aside from Empire Maker, there is no horse receiving more attention this week than this strapping dark bay son of the Dollase-trained Deputy Commander, winner of the 1997 Travers and earner of $1.9 million.

What makes this trip to the Kentucky Derby - the third of Dollase's career - even more special for Dollase is he's doing it with the people for whom he trained prior to his stint at The Thoroughbred Corp. In 1994, Dollase put together Horizon Stable, a partnership that consists of about 15 horses in training. Dollase retains a small piece of every horse.

Prior to his success with Deputy Commander, Dollase had made his mark mostly with older horses, such as 1990 turf champion Itsallgreektome, 1996 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Jewel Princess, Canadian champion Windsharp, and European imports Helmsman, Ventiquatrofogli, Irish Wings, and Worldly Ways.

Michael Jarvis of Manhattan Beach, Calif., was one of the first members of Horizon. He was supportive of Dollase's move to The Thoroughbred Corp., but was equally happy to get him back as a trainer when Dollase was fired. In the interim, Wally's son, Craig, trained for Horizon.

"I think he's been underrated,'' Jarvis said of Wally Dollase. "He still has problems filling out partnerships. People can buy 5 to 50 percent and can get in on what very probably is going to be a good horse. He flies under the radar screen and I'm not sure why.''

In 1996 and 1997 Dollase soared well above the radar screen with Jewel Princess and Deputy Commander. In 1997, those two helped Dollase's stable top $5 million in earnings. The '97 Travers, in which Deputy Commander beat Behrens by a nose in a stirring stretch duel, was "the most thrilling moment in racing I had up to that point,'' Dollase said.

Dollase, 65, said rebuilding his stable wasn't easy. He preferred not to spend more than $200,000 on a single horse, but he wanted to make sure he found good horseflesh.

"The horses make you look good, so I'm not going to buy something that isn't good,'' said Dollase, who would frequently buy horses from Europe and South America. "It took some time to get a decent stable together."

One of the first horses he bought was Good Journey, a horse Dollase purchased in France at the end of 2000. Good Journey won last year's Grade 1 Atto Mile before finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

"We're back winning stakes races,'' Dollase said. "When I left we were winning stakes races and we're doing the same thing.''

Dollase bought Ten Most Wanted for $145,000 at the Fasig Tipton Sales at Calder in February 2002. Dollase liked him, in part, because he was by Deputy Commander.

Ten Most Wanted is very similar to Deputy Commander, but may be about two months ahead of where Deputy Commander was as a 3-year-old. Deputy Commander did not debut until January of his 3-year-old year and finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby in April. On the first Friday in May, he finished third in the Crown Royal at Churchill Downs on turf. From there, the light turned on and he blossomed.

Ten Most Wanted debuted in late November of his 2-year-old season, finishing second in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Hollywood. He won his maiden by eight lengths in January at Santa Anita.

Ten Most Wanted made his stakes debut in the Sham at Santa Anita, a race that also featured Empire Maker. Ten Most Wanted was bumped hard at the break, took off to duel for the lead, and finished fourth. Empire Maker was second.

Whereas Empire Maker moved forward with the addition of blinkers to win the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, Ten Most Wanted had his blinkers removed for his next start, the El Camino Real Derby. In that race, he again was too aggressive, pressing the pace before fading to third.

"He was probably thinking of the bad experience from the time before,'' Dollase said, trying to explain Ten Most Wanted's early speed that day. "That's all they can do, they can't reason; they know good experience, bad experience.''

Jockey Pat Day, who rode Ten Most Wanted for the first time in the El Camino Real, told Dollase that he felt the horse would have a big summer.

Dollase pointed Ten Most Wanted to the Illinois Derby, where he settled into seventh position early on, had to steady nearing the quarter pole when lacking room, and finished full of run to win by four lengths.

"I couldn't have anticipated he would progress as much as he did in his next start,'' Day said.

Now, there is the opportunity for Ten Most Wanted to have a big spring.

"I'm confident he's going to run a good race,'' Dollase said. "If it's good enough to beat Empire Maker, that's another thing.''