09/30/2001 11:00PM

Fanfare for the common man


ARCADIA, Calif. - It hardly seemed fair. Somebody find the matchmaker.

In one corner, there were two guys wearing short pants, Hawaiian shirts, and identifying themselves as the owner and the breeder of a horse named after a puppy that was pushed off a city bus.

In the other corner, representing Godolphin blue, were three fellows in Saville Row suits, looking slick and successful, represented by a filly of impeccable breeding and named with royal flair.

Imperial Gesture was even a perfect fit for recent headlines. Her owner, Sheikh Mohammed, is the crown prince of Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, and he had just donated $5 million to the relief fund for the families of the victims of the World Trade Center attack. If that's not an imperial gesture, nothing is.

But then, at the end of the day, the outcome of a horse race does not depend upon names, numbers, or the pedigree of the people involved. On this particular day, in the $250,000 Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita, it was Tali'sluckybusride, owned by Ron and Susie Anson, who was a romping winner over Imperial Gesture.

We might be stuck with this filly for a while, so let's break it apart and say it slowly. Tali was an Akita puppy who was tossed of an L.A. city bus right in front of Susie Anson, who took her home to Ron and said, basically, "Meet our new dog." Tali means lucky in Vietnamese.

Tali'sluckybusride is a daughter of the Washington sire Delineator and bred by Dr. Michael Konecny. She has now won both of her starts and stands temporarily atop a tattered West Coast 2-year-old division.

Her Oak Leaf on Sunday marked the first appearance for the Ansons in such company. The Godolphin crew, headed by trainer Eoin Harty, enjoyed considerably more experience. In fact, Anson was surrounded. When entries were drawn, his filly also was staring into the face of Habibti, impressive winner of the Del Mar Debutante and owned by The Thoroughbred Corp. of Saudi

Arabian Prince Ahmed Salman. Anson had a right to feel intimidated.

"I do feel that way, but I shouldn't," Anson said. "I don't spend $6 million for a horse, or go to Keeneland. I can't afford to do that. I've spent about $4 million in my life."

Point made. The Anson family owns no oil wells. Luck, however, seems in good supply. When Habibti spiked a fever and stayed in the barn, Tali'sluckybusride and jockey Jose Valdivia were left without a serious threat at the end of the Oak Leaf, carrying Anson's Chicago Cubs silks in lonely splendor at odds of 15-1.

"Everybody wants to know how much I bet," Anson said. "I tell them, when you're running for $250,000, you don't need to be betting."

He was right. Hitting a triple is sweet, but it's nothing compared to the visceral rush of a major stakes win. On his way down to the track, familiar players and everyday fans reached out to give him a slap on the back. He invited them all to join him in the winner's circle.

"I'm a small owner," he insisted. "I'll always be a small owner. I think that's why all those people congratulate me. It's like they are winning, too."

Anson may consider himself small, but there are a lot of owners who could take a lesson from his operation. Originally based on claims, combined now with budget purchases and a little breeding, the Anson stable is remarkably free of self delusion and ego.

Stable manager Rene Romero defers to trainer Alfredo Marquez. Marquez, a 59-year-old native of Tijuana, protests that all he does is train the horses and let Anson and Romero make the decisions. Anson considers himself the least important cog in the machine, especially when compared to someone like Carlos Cervantes, who grooms Tali'sluckybusride.

As far as Anson is concerned, the Oak Leaf was an omen, a sign that his considerable energies are pointed in the right direction.

"I woke up one day, about three weeks ago," he said, "and thought, I'm going to be 59 next month, I've been working for 47 years. If I don't start to enjoy some of the fruits of my labor, I'm going to end up dead and wonder what it was I ever worked for. So my whole life, for the rest of my life, will be involved in horse racing."

Anson is inclined to resist the temptation of the Breeders' Cup and keep Tali'sluckybusride home for now. He is an accountant by trade, and as such, he knows how to read a ledger.

"I understand what the issues are," Anson said. "The Breeders' Cup is something I'd go to only if I was getting an edge. If the Breeders' Cup was here, I'd run her. But she's only a baby. And to ship her all that way? When she has such value as a 3-year-old? She could be another Golden Ballet!"

Anson will wait, until the Starlet Stakes at Hollywood Park and beyond, as his stable soars far past even the wildest fantasies of a young kid from Chicago.

"When I was 12 years old at Sportsman's Park and Hawthorne, cutting school to go to Cubs doubleheaders, I'd dream about owning just the tail of some horse," he recalled.

"And now this. When you put in the time, put in the energy and try to do it right - this is really the greatest day of my life."