07/12/2004 11:00PM

Happy horse keeps on winning


TUCSON, Ariz. - Despite the Smartyfication of American racing, the most fascinating race for me so far this summer was not the Derby, the Preakness, or the Belmont.

It was the $100,000 Lone Star Oaks on the Fourth of July, and not just because it was won so appropriately by a 3-year-old filly named America America.

It was the filly's 26th lifetime start, 24 of them in stakes, in four countries at 19 different tracks. She has raced in Germany, England, Canada, and the United States, from Ascot to Keeneland to Belmont to Woodbine to Indiana Downs to Sunland Park to Gulfstream to Lone Star.

She is a one-horse stable, trained by her owner. He hauled her from Keeneland to Lone Star "because I like Texas," and then hauled her back to Keeneland, where a vet will decide whether she should race again. She is in foal to El Prado.

She has won $393,050, on turf and dirt, racing long and short, from three furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.

And - most significant of all - she has raced without medication.

No juice, no additives in the tank, no chemistry.

Her owner-trainer is the 35-year-old French horseman Franck Mourier, who came to the United States five years ago as part of a lifelong dream and bought the filly by the English sire Mister Baileys out of a Mining mare named Gal of Mine, bred in Kentucky by GreenHill Farm, for $5,000 as a yearling. He named her America America for his love of this country.

Although he and his wife, Capucine, live the carefree life of gypsies, traveling continent to continent as they wish, Franck Mourier is no gypsy trainer. He has a degree in physiology and a business in France. He is a thoughtful and articulate horseman, philosophically related to Richard Mandella, and respected by me for the same reasons that I consider Mandella a hero. They love and respect and care for their horses, and train them accordingly.

Franck Mourier is a hay, oats, and water man, who says he is deeply concerned and troubled by the use of medication in this country, particularly on 2-year-olds. He says he would try to understand anyone who could give him one good reason for doing so. He calls it "miserable for the sport, for breeders, and for owners, trainers, jockeys, and the press." He explains that he raced his filly in Germany and England, knowing it was nonsensical from a financial point of view to develop her in a clean racing environment where there is strict control of medication and whipping. In Germany, whips longer than one foot are barred; in England, abusive use of whips is punished rather than ignored by racing stewards.

Mourier may be considered unconventional by other trainers, but he believes in racing a happy horse naturally, with grass and fresh air. America America can be headstrong. Some jockeys have told Mourier she should race with blinkers, and Roman Chapa, who rode her to victory in the Oaks, calls her "aggressive." But Mourier says he does not believe in blinkers, just as he does not believe in medication: "I think she should be able to run naturally, and if sometimes she does not want to run, that is okay."

The charts indicate there are very few times when she did not want to run. She has been 15 times first, second, or third.

"If I did everything people told me to do," Mourier says, "I wouldn't have the fun or the filly I have."

He spends two hours in the morning and one in the afternoon walking with his filly, in woods if available, and he feels that has contributed to her soundness and health and - that word again - happiness.

Mourier has been training for 17 years, and he says that while he loves racing in America, he hates what he sees on the backstretch. He calls medication "the only shadow that clouds American racing" and attributes the absence of it as part of his filly's durability. I asked him about the long layoffs between races for upper-level horses, and he says that rest is necessary to get the toxicity out of their systems.

Talking to Franck Mourier was like walking in a cool breeze in the heat of a Tucson summer. He is a man living his dream. He is lucky to have America America, and she is lucky - very lucky - to have him as her owner and trainer.