08/16/2001 11:00PM

An emotional time for Dixie Dot Com's camp


DEL MAR, Calif. - Trainer Bill Morey describes Dixie Dot Com's career as a rollercoaster, four years that included seven stakes wins but also occasional injuries that prevented his running in prestigious races.

Twice, a hairline fracture of the left front cannon bone put Dixie Dot Com out of action. Each time, he returned in top form. Last fall, Dixie Dot Com reacted poorly to a shot from a veterinarian and was sidelined until swelling in a blood vessel subsided.

Since his return in March, Dixie Dot Com has been in top shape, winning two stakes and placing in two others, form that is good enough to justify a start for him in Sunday's $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar.

"There have been some peaks and valleys with this horse," Morey said.

While everything was fine with Dixie Dot Com in advance of the Pacific Classic, tragedy struck one of his connections this month. On Aug. 10, co-owner Bart Heller died while undergoing surgery. Heller, a fixture in northern California racing for decades, had been battling cancer in recent years.

"For him to go in and not come out, I'm still in shock about it," Morey said.

Morey credits Heller for purchasing Dixie Dot Com and providing the trainer with his first millionaire racehorse. A 6-year-old, Dixie Dot Com is owned by Don and Carole Chaiken and Bart Heller's wife, Ronelle.

"Without Heller, I wouldn't be here this weekend," Morey said. "I'd be saddling an $8,000 maiden and not a horse in a million dollar race."

The Pacific Classic has been a goal of the owners all year.

"Sunday will be a very emotional day for us," Carole Chaiken said.

At times in the past, it seemed unreasonable to expect Dixie Dot Com to be racing at this age, especially at this level.

He suffered a hairline fracture of a cannon bone early in his 3-year-old season, which put him off the 1998 Triple Crown trail. He returned to win a minor stakes that fall and score an impressive win in the 1999 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita, his 4-year-old debut. A few weeks later, before the important Strub Stakes at Santa Anita, the hairline fracture resurfaced, forcing another layoff.

"We were going to be 4-5 in the Strub and he reopened it," Morey said. "We took a maintenance picture. The vet didn't think there was anything there and I said, 'Let's take a picture,' He said, 'You know your horse pretty good.' By catching it that early, we knew we had a chance of coming back.

"We were always fortunate to catch the fractures early," Morey said. "There was never a Grand Canyon look to it, just a hairline. There was a lot of luck in catching it."

Dixie Dot Com returned in the fall of 1999 and then won the 2000 San Pasqual Handicap at Santa Anita, exactly one year after his San Fernando win. His campaign was interrupted again by the reaction to the shot, which kept him out until this March.

"Most opinions were the horse couldn't come back at 100 percent," Morey said. "Thank goodness we proved them wrong."

In five starts this year, Dixie Dot Com has won twice - the Texas Mile and Lone Star Park Handicap, both at Lone Star Park.

The Pacific Classic will be Dixie Dot Com's second appearance at 1 1/4 miles, preceded by an eighth in the 2000 Santa Anita Handicap. Morey is more confident for this go-round.

At 8-1, Dixie Dot Com is not considered a leading contender.

"I might have to take a little bit of that," Morey said.

Morey has won stakes at California's smallest track - the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale - to Del Mar, where he saddled Perfect Six, the 1999 Torrey Pines Stakes winner. "We've won at all of them in the middle except the Big Fresno Fair," he said. "We're working on that."

On Thursday, when post positions were drawn, Morey was asked what it would mean to win the Pacific Classic at such a poignant time. "There would be a lot of emotions," he said.

It was all he could manage to say. Behind his dark sunglasses, Morey blinked a few times, remembering a dear friend.