12/05/2002 12:00AM

Gelding a fighter on track and off

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ALBANY, Calif. - Win or lose, the 10-year-old gelding Today a Star could always be counted on to give his best on the racetrack. And because he has so much heart, he became one of northern California's most popular horses.

The will and determination that made Today a Star special on the track may have helped save his life after he suffered a condylar fracture of his right foreleg while pulling up from a four-furlong work on July 19. The fracture was so bad that bone protruded through the skin of the leg.

Today a Star underwent a six-hour surgery at University of California-Davis that left him with three plates and 23 screws in the leg. Probably the one thing that saved him initially was that there was no sesamoid damage.

He survived the surgery and, although retired, was about ready in early September to return to trainer Terry Houghton's barn at Golden Gate Fields, where his condition could easily be monitored, when he had an attack of colic. He survived but developed laminitis in his left front foot, his good foot.

He seems to be recovering from the laminitis, and plans are once again being made for his return to Golden Gate Fields.

"Every day someone asks about Toddy," Houghton said, calling Today a Star by his nickname. "I appreciate that. He wasn't a million-dollar stakes horse, but there was nothing phony about him."

Today a Star last won a race in 1999 when he took the Ken Maddy Sprint and Bay Meadows Express in back-to-back races. He finished third in his last start, the Sam J. Whiting Memorial Handicap at Pleasanton on June 29, and was preparing for a start in the Ernest Finley Handicap at Santa Rosa when he suffered the career-ending injury.

In all, he won 7 of 35 starts with 7 seconds, 5 thirds, and earnings of $285,460.

When he was injured, owner-breeder Norma Rogers made the decision to try to save him.

"I don't think he was an absolutely talented horse, but we always felt he gave us everything he could," Rogers said. "He had given us a great deal. It was time to pay him back.

"It's not inhumane just to put them to sleep," Rogers added. "We have some we wouldn't put through what he's been put through. But he's a very strong individual, a fighter."

Dr. Larry Galuppo of the University of California at Davis was part of the surgery team that saved Today a Star. He was impressed by the gelding's toughness.

"He had lots of odds stacked against him," said Galuppo said. "It was a horrendous injury. It was an open fracture in one of the most difficult areas to fuse."

Today a Star still faces a long recovery, but some good has come from his injury.

During his treatment of Today a Star, Galuppo was introduced to a number of northern California racetrack veterinarians, and he has been added to the board of directors of the equine hospital under construction at Golden Gate Fields. This connection has helped strengthen communication between UC-Davis and the racetrack-based vets.

Another by-product of Today a Star's injury is that Houghton discovered that all tracks don't have a Kimzey boot, a $239 portable protective device to take pressure off a horse's injured leg. Now, because of Houghton's lobbying, Bay Meadows, Golden Gate Fields and Pleasanton, where overflow horses are stabled, have all purchased Kimzey boots.