01/22/2009 1:00AM

Finallymadeit repeatedly defies the odds


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Whenever he was asked who he was rooting for in a big race, the late great Joe Hirsch always had the same reply.

"The best story," Hirsch would say with a twinkle in his eye.

Well if Hirsch were here for Saturday's Sunshine Millions Classic, he would undoubtedly be rooting for Finallymadeit, who is lucky just to be alive let alone among the major contenders in the feature on the Sunshine Millions card.

Finallymadeit was bred by his owners, Rolando and Beatrice Rodriguez. A son of Concerto, Finallymadeit was paralyzed in behind at birth, and the prospects of living a normal life seemed dim. Rodriguez even contemplated euthanizing the young colt, but his wife intervened, asking him to wait and give the horse some time.

Gradually, Finallymadeit's condition improved. He eventually made his way to the racetrack and into the barn of trainer Javier Negrete.

"He could barely walk at birth, but three months later he began to sit up and little by little his condition improved," said Negrete. "We didn't get him into the track until late as a 2-year-old, and even then Rolando wasn't sure he was going to make it to the races. But every time we worked him from the gate, he was the fastest one in here, and after he saw him breeze one morning, he said, 'Let's go for it.' "

Finallymadeit won his maiden in his second start and developed into a stakes-caliber sprinter. He won nine races in 2007 as a 3-year-old, six of them stakes, at distances ranging from five to seven furlongs. He even stretched out around two turns to win the 1 1/16-mile Memorial Day Handicap last May at Calder. But after Finallymadeit beat just four horses in three subsequent sprint races, Negrete suggested it might be time to retire the "miracle" colt.

"The owner always thought this horse could go long and suggested we try him just once more going a distance of ground before retiring him," Negrete recalled. "We have a nice relationship, we always make decisions regarding the horses together, and in this instance he couldn't have been more right."

Finallymadeit captured four of his next six starts, three of them stakes, including the Grade 3 Fred Hooper Handicap in his 2008 finale. Two of the wins came at nine furlongs.

"As a young horse he could never make it as a distance runner because he was just too fast," said Negrete. "You couldn't slow him down. But as he's matured he's learned to rate a little, and now that's all he wants to be - a distance horse. And they're going to have to catch him again on Saturday."

A victory in the Classic would nearly double Finallymadeit's career earnings, which stand at $661,000. It would also add another amazing chapter to a story Hirsch himself would truly admire.

Anderson recalls nightmare trip

Finallymadeit's path to the winner's circle will have to go through likely favorite Delightful Kiss, who is a pretty good story himself. Delightful Kiss is trained by former rider Pete Anderson, who has traveled the country seeking the best spots for the stretch-running son of Kissin Kris while encountering a few bumps along the way.

One came before Delightful Kiss finished fourth in the Breeders' Cup Marathon Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

"When we shipped him from Northern California to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup it was without a doubt the worst van ride I've ever gone through in all my years on the racetrack," said Anderson. "When the van arrived at 3:30 a.m. to pick us up I knew already we were in trouble. Then, once we got started, we learned there had been a terrible accident on the road between San Francisco and Santa Anita. But when we inquired about alternate routes, we were told the only other way to get there was to swim down."

The trip ultimately took nearly 12 hours.

"At one point we didn't move 12 inches in two hours," Anderson recalled. "He wound up getting a gash on his head that we couldn't treat because we were right on top of the race. I'm not an alibi guy but if ever there was one, this was it."

Anderson also admits that training horses is much harder on his nerves than riding them.

"I slept like a baby the night before races when I rode," said Anderson. "But I pace the floor before his races. That's because as a rider you are in charge but as a trainer, there's nothing you can do once you turn those reins over to the jock. Everything is completely out of your hands."