04/27/2005 11:00PM

Happy end to Mister Acpen's ordeal


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Mister Acpen returns from a 16-month layoff to start in Saturday's $100,000 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park, a break in which he was nearly euthanized and was exiled to Holland for a year before returning to the United States earlier this year.

The ordeal took many twists and turns along the way, testing the patience and dedication of co-owner and prominent lawyer Neil Papiano and his trainer, Kristin Mulhall. When Mister Acpen starts on Saturday, the crisis will be well behind him, but it remains fresh on Mulhall's mind.

"There were six or seven times they were going to put him down," Mulhall said of Mister Acpen.

According to Mulhall, Mister Acpen tested positive for pyropolasmosis, a blood disease, when he returned from Hong Kong after finishing 10th in the Hong Kong Mile in December 2003.

Mulhall said that Mister Acpen, who was bred in Chile, was negative when he was tested for the disease before leaving the United States, but was listed as positive when he returned because the U.S. agriculture officials had changed the protocol for the test.

At that point, Mulhall said, Mister Acpen was restricted to a quarantine facility at Hollywood Park and was nearly euthanized because of his positive test.

His life was saved when Mulhall learned that horses with the disease were accepted in Holland.

"When they had him at quarantine at Hollywood Park, it was gross," she said. "They had him in a stall that was dark. They had to keep him isolated. It was ugly.

"We tried to take him back to Argentina or Chile, but it came through that the only country that we could get him into was Holland. We had to get him out of here right away."

Mister Acpen spent 2004 at a farm for Arabian-breds in Holland, where he was treated for the disease.

"They did heavy-duty chemotherapy," Mulhall said. "They said he lost about 300 pounds."

Mister Acpen was tested again for pyropolasmosis in late 2004 and was negative, allowing him to return to the United States.

But in order to return to the United States, Mulhall said that Mister Acpen had to be tested for contagious equine metritis, a venereal disease. The process required that he be quarantined for 30 days and bred to two mares. He tested negative and was allowed to return.

"We didn't get him until the end of January," she said. "I never thought we'd see him again."

Mister Acpen is one of eight runners in the Inglewood Handicap, which is run at 1 1/16 miles on turf.

In 2003, Mister Acpen won the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on turf, his lone stakes win in seven starts in the United States.

Co-owned by Papiano and Kristin's father, Richard Mulhall, Mister Acpen has won 6 of 21 starts and $317,974.

Not much is expected from him in Saturday's race, other than the satisfaction of watching Mister Acpen compete for the first time in 1 1/2 years.

"He's pretty fit, but I don't know if he's fit enough to run with these kind of horses," Mulhall said. "He might get a little tired in the stretch, but he'll be tough next time out.

"It's been fun to have him back. He's got a ton of personality."

Rock Hard Ten to resume light training

Rock Hard Ten, the top handicap horse at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting, is expected to return to light training this weekend after missing a week because of a back injury.

Trainer Richard Mandella speculates that Rock Hard Ten wrenched his back when he became cast in his stall. Mandella said that a nuclear scan revealed no injuries.

"He came back good from the scan," Mandella said.

The winner of the Malibu Stakes, Strub Stakes, and Santa Anita Handicap, Rock Hard Ten is being considered for the Metropolitan Mile Handicap at Belmont Park on May 30.

Valenzuela back riding Saturday

Jockey Patrick Valenzuela returns from a weeklong absence with six mounts on Saturday's nine-race program.

The leading rider of the Santa Anita meeting, Valenzuela injured his right knee in a starting-gate accident on April 22 and was advised by a doctor to take a few days off.

Valenzuela, 42, rides King of Happiness in the Inglewood Handicap.

* Rene Douglas, the second-leading rider at Santa Anita, rode the first three winners on Wednesday's program at Hollywood Park. The $1 all-Douglas pick three returned $54.90.

* With interest boosted by a carryover of $555,240, Wednesday's pick six returned $10,768.80 to 169 ticketholders. Bettors added $2,277,782 on Wednesday.

The winners of the pick six races were Classical Lady ($10.80), Khyber Pass ($7), County ($7.20), Anglo Saxon ($19.80), Kaimana ($7.80), and Loving Type ($4).

Handle on Wednesday's eight-day program reached $10,535,551, a figure more frequently reached on a weekend.