11/16/2007 12:00AM

Fran's Valentine stirs reverie

EmailPHOENIX - As if I needed confirmation.

It's not the little aches and pains - though they're there - letting me know I'm getting old. It's not that it's harder to get out of bed than into it. It's not that my golf swing isn't as long and languid as it once was, or that it takes a little more work to read the PPs or that I recently had to describe to my young niece how you actually "dialed" a rotary phone.

What really has driven home that fact that I am aging is the many horses I have seen whose career or life has been cut short. A few of the most recent ones are Barbaro, Drill Down, and George Washington.

But it was the death of an old-timer that really struck a chord: Fran's Valentine, who passed away last month due to infirmities of old age at 25.

She was just a baby when she blasted onto the scene, finishing first in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Hollywood Park in 1984 at 74-1, only to be disqualified for interference in the lane and placed 10th. The victory was awarded to Outstandingly, who would go on to earn the Eclipse Award. In terms of my career as a handicapper, I was a mere pup then, too.

After having that win and award taken away, Fran's Valentine flourished with age and maturity. She came back bigger and meaner at 3 for trainer Joe Manzi and the Green Thumb Farm of owner Earl Scheib, the auto painting magnate, winning multiple Grade 1's, including the Kentucky Oaks, Hollywood Oaks, and Santa Susana (now the Santa Anita Oaks). She was a force in the division for another couple years, finishing second to Lady's Secret in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita in 1986, and winning several California-bred championships. She had 13 wins from 34 starts and earned over $1.3 million - when $1.3 million was a lot of money.

She was a success in the breeding shed, too, producing six winners from 10 foals, including With Anticipation, who won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer twice, the Grade 1 United Nations, and the Grade 1 Man o' War, and earned over $2.6 million.

Fran's Valentine might not have been my favorite horse. But she was a watermark in my life in the game. She signifies the first generation of horse where I saw everything. I saw them emerge. I saw them succeed and fail. I saw all the beauty and all the blemishes. I witnessed their first career, that of racehorse, begin, flourish and come to an end, and the second career, in the breeding shed, begin and end. And now I'm seeing them pass on.

Fran's Valentine emerged on the scene about the same time I came to Daily Racing Form, and her name merely topped a list of many horses people in my generation grew up with and this year have seen leave, including Mom's Command, Chilukki, Cutlass Reality, and, of course, John Henry.

They've left their mark on the game and on those of us who got see it all from them. There's little more to be said to honor them, though one phrase comes to mind. As Archie "Midnight" Graham walked into the cornfield in the movie "Field of Dreams," Shoeless Joe Jackson called to him. "Hey," he said. "You were good."