04/28/2006 12:00AM

Gift horse turns into good fortune

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Having a Kentucky Derby contender is an obvious stroke of luck for a racehorse owner. But the immediate connections aren't the only ones who benefit from a Derby horse.

Witness the story of Barbara Corey, a 59-year-old waitress who keeps a few Thoroughbred mares and adoptee horses on her five-acre farm in San Bernardino, Calif. Last year, a friend of hers, Grant MacNichols, told her he had a Thoroughbred mare he would give her. The 5-year-old mare had made five starts and never won a race, and MacNichols didn't want to go into the breeding game. At first, Corey declined on the grounds that she had plenty of horses to feed already. But when MacNichols said he would give the mare to a rescue group instead, Corey relented and took the mare. Another friend, Dana Rocheford, took part ownership in the mare, whom the two planned to breed.

It didn't look like a bad deal. The mare, Prenuptial Plans, was a half-sister to Gimmeawink, a Maryland and West Virginia stakes winner by Elusive Quality. Corey reasoned that a foal bred similarly to Gimmeawink might be worth a little money, so she bred Prenuptial Plans to Elusive Quality's three-quarter-brother Rossini. That was just smart thinking. What happened next was good karma, the way Corey sees it.

In 2006, another half-sibling to Prenuptial Plans started winning races. His name is Showing Up, and after his win in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, he is now a Derby candidate. He has also increased the value of his dam, and given Corey a golden opportunity.

"I watched that race, and I cried," Corey said of the Lexington Stakes. "I'm incredulous. I'm a waitress. I have a little horse farm. I've got five acres, and I work to pay for all that foolishness and frivolity. Now I've got farms in Kentucky calling me and bloodstock agents calling me."

Now, Corey says, she is considering potential foal-share deals for such stallions as Vindication, Roman Ruler, Lion Heart, and Royal Academy. Working with Lossen, Corey said she expects to accept a deal by Tuesday. And now Prenuptial Plans's Rossini colt appears headed for a Kentucky auction ring.

"Taylor Made has offered to sell him," she said, adding that she might sell Prenuptial Plans in the fall once the mare is in foal.

Corey, who has waited tables at Monty's Steak House in Pasadena for 34 years, has spent most of her life in the racing game as a small-time owner and breeder. Her racing partners often are customers from the restaurant.

"I can talk just about anybody into just about anything," she said.

Corey isn't a dewy-eyed newcomer to the Thoroughbred business. She stood the stallion Summit in partnership and syndicated Louisiana Slew and brought him to California. She breeds six to 14 foals a year, usually selling some as yearlings and keeping one to race in partnership with friends. Her one-horse stable is Iam the Tax Man, who won a race in New Mexico last Sunday.

She got involved in the sport in the late-1970's, when a friend, Tex Sutton, who later became a horse transporter, was putting together a group to buy a yearling out of Kentucky.

"I went drinking with Tex and the guys one day, and he was planning to go to the sales," she said. "I'd just gotten divorced. I took off my wedding ring, because it had a big, fat diamond on it, and I said, 'Go buy us a horse.' "

But Corey never had serious expectations of making any big scores at the races or in the auction ring. Her main source of income still comes from working the night shift at Monty's, from 5:30 p.m. until she closes the place between 1 and 2 a.m. When she's not waiting tables and putting together racing partnerships at the restaurant, she's at her Friendship Farm in the company of about 20 horses, three dogs, a cockatoo, several emus, and a host of indoor and outdoor cats. If you're not a regular at Monty's, you probably can find Corey at the Thoroughbred retirement and rescue events, where she helps organize fundraising stallion season auctions.

"I'm a big believer that what goes around, comes around," Corey said. "I honestly believe that if you do good and are honest and sincere and do the best you can, hopefully you will be rewarded for it."

And it's coming around in spades since Showing Up's Lexington victory.

"It's crazy," she said. "I'm in shock. I've been walking around Monty's with a big smile on my face, and they're thinking, 'Hey, Barbara's got a boyfriend.' I'm like, 'Oh, no, it's better than that.'