06/06/2005 11:00PM

Even before debut, The White Fox draws fans

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The White Fox, a rarity among Thoroughbreds, finishes a distant third in his career debut last Sunday at River Downs.

CINCINNATI - Forty minutes before the first live race on a steamy Sunday afternoon at River Downs, a small group of onlookers congregated outside the stall of a 3-year-old colt named The White Fox, who was moments away from running in his first race.

As trainer Bill Connelly made final preparations before sending him on his way to the paddock, The White Fox was in a serene mood. Your average young colt might have been prone to skittishness with all the activity going on around him, at a time of day that until now had been reserved for relaxation.

But for The White Fox, constant human attention, often accompanied by the clicking sound of cameras, had become routine. From birth, and especially since his arrival at the racetrack several months ago, The White Fox had picked up on the fact that he is something special, a horse that draws stares.

The White Fox is a genetic rarity, one of only 17 white Thoroughbreds ever to have been registered by The Jockey Club, and a fourth-generation white Thoroughbred produced at Warren and Betty Rosenthal's Patchen Wilkes Farm, near Lexington, Ky. His dam, the white Patchen Beauty, was also foaled from a white mare, Precious Beauty, who was a granddaughter of the first registered white Thoroughbred, White Beauty.

Patchen Beauty raced primarily in Kentucky and Ohio in the late 1990's, winning twice, but it was her son who took center stage at River Downs this past Sunday in a six-furlong maiden special weight race.

A larger-than-normal crowd swarmed the paddock area for a glimpse at the white horse, and with the post parade delayed slightly by a stewards' inquiry into the running of the previous race at Thistledown, fans were afforded plenty of time to get a close-up view and pictures. It was then that The White Fox shook off his calm demeanor and began to get keyed up, readying himself for battle.

Perhaps because of what he is, but also due to the apparent weakness of the field and two recent bullet works, bettors made The White Fox the 4-5 favorite. Breaking from post 1, The White Fox started just a beat slow, but quickly settled into fourth behind the pacesetting Here's Louie.

With each passing quarter, it appeared The White Fox was being handed a gift. The opening quarter went in 22 seconds, with the half-mile timed in 44.40, a fast pace rarely seen at River Downs. The White Fox moved up to third around the turn and appeared ready to pounce on Here's Louie and Right Category, who had been tracking close behind.

The records of the leaders suggested they could not possibly sustain that kind of speed.

But just as quickly as The White Fox had moved into striking range, the top two found another gear and began to draw off in the stretch. On this day, The White Fox would have to settle for third, nine lengths behind the winning Here's Louie, who completed the distance in 1:10.60.

"The one hole hurt, but 10 and change killed him," jockey Perry Ouzts said later.

For The White Fox, it was a solid first attempt, yet one that came with a temporary cost. The glistening coat that had been the source of all the prerace attention had become caked in dirt. After a quick hose-down, The White Fox headed back to his stall, where he would await the next round.

Ben's Reflection will stay on turf for stakes

Ben's Reflection, who endured an awful trip in a turf allowance last month, will remain on the grass for his next start, the Sydney Gendelman Memorial on June 19, said Kathy Lowry, who oversees trainer Mike Nance's stable at River.

The leading sprinter in Ohio the past two seasons, Ben's Reflection made his third career start on grass in an open allowance May 29, where he started as the odds-on favorite.

Unusually slow into stride, Ben's Reflection found himself farther off the pace than he had ever been. Checked repeatedly throughout, Ben's Reflection somehow managed to get up for fourth, and was beaten less than a length by a former Brazilian triple crown winner, Roxinho.

"I think it made him mad," Lowry said of the troubled trip. "We're hoping next time there won't be as much traffic."

Father Frank a track regular

Frank Niehaus, the retired Roman Catholic priest whose ministry, the Backstretch Works of Mercy, has served the River Downs community for 10 years, was recently honored at the track on the 50th anniversary of his ordination.

"Father Frank," as he is known to countless backstretch workers, is not your typical man of the cloth. Niehaus, 75, has long been a racing fan, and has even dabbled in horse ownership. When not tending to the needs and concerns of horsemen, Niehaus can usually be found in a grandstand box enjoying an afternoon of racing, with a fine cigar and making an occasional wager.

But it is his work in comforting and aiding people in need which Niehaus says pleases him the most. That can involve any number of matters, from arranging legal or medical help to counseling those coping with death or contemplating suicide.

"I always had it in the back of my mind to do this when I retired [from the priesthood], to get back here and see what I could do to help people out," said Niehaus. "I'm a little bit perturbed when someone asks me, 'What are you doing at a racetrack?' and I say, 'That's where the action is. That's where the people need you.' "