09/04/2002 11:00PM

Hazelton's expertise in training, not talking


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - When Bold America starts Saturday in the Spectacular Bid Stakes, the 72-year-old trainer Richard Hazelton will drive to the track in his modest maroon pickup truck, no doubt wearing his trademark cowboy hat - probably the straw one.

Forty-five years ago, when Hazelton had another fleet 2-year-old, things were different. A colt of his had beaten up on Turf Paradise stock and was eligible for a $2,000 stakes purse there.

"I said forget about that," Hazelton said. "I bought me a suit and went to Hollywood."

Hazelton drove the colt himself, doing the grooming and exercise riding for good measure.

"I got him into the paddock and he looked like a little Indian pony," he said. "He lost by about 16 lengths."

In the end, the colt turned out fine. So did Hazelton. And if you don't see him in a suit anymore, it's because Hazelton has earned the right to dress the way he wants. Fifty-some years into his training career, he has won more than 4,000 races and ranks fourth in wins among active trainers. Hazelton has won more training titles in his lifetime - at one time 17 in a row at Sportsman's Park - than most trainers will win races in a year.

But don't ask him to talk about it. Hazelton punctuates memories of his career with "don't write that." Press him and he will outline his accomplishments, but he's still too humble, too shy, to let things come out as a brag.

Hazelton came up in an old Southwestern school of horsemen that included his father, George, and as a boy he rode some of the fastest Quarter Horses around. A weathered news photo of his father talking to Hazelton over a split-rail fence describes the 16-year-old Hazelton as one of the best bug riders in Tijuana, Mexico. "I actually was 14," he said.

Hazelton ran into a problem common to many young jockeys: He grew. But Hazelton moved smoothly into training, and as a young man he started dominating racing at Turf Paradise. He would shuffle between Phoenix and Ruidoso Park in New Mexico during the summer until one of his main owners said it was time to branch out.

"She said you've got to go to Detroit," Hazelton recalled.

Hazelton packed up his stable and they went north - by train. "I was 25 years old and I was scared to death," he said. "I wound up beating old man [Marion] Van Berg for leading trainer there."

Hazelton shifted to Illinois so long ago that almost none of the trainers who ruled Chicago when he arrived are even alive now. The train lines soured on horse shipping, so Hazelton started flying stock between Arizona and Illinois.

"It cost me $300 a head to fly 39 horses here the first time," he said.

Through it all the fast young horses kept coming. Like with Wayne Lukas or Bob Baffert, other Quarter Horse trainers who moved to Thoroughbreds, the ability to bring the speed out of a precocious Thoroughbred seems to come naturally to Hazelton. Hazelton's best was the crack sprinter Full Pocket, but Zip Pocket held three different world records at various times and just a few years ago there was Summer Note, whose brilliance was cut short by tendon problems.

Bold America is a promising youngster, a good maiden winner this summer at Arlington and second of nine in the $50,000 Canterbury Juvenile. Hazelton said the colt is nice - "He's pretty darn quick" - but he worries about how far Bold America wants to run and about his quality.

Hazelton has tried many things to get fast horses to produce their best in a big race, but unsurprisingly he's not giving himself too much credit.

"The best thing is to get one that can run," he said.

Rock Slide continues climb

Rock Slide continues his march back toward stakes company when he faces five opponents in a high-level dirt allowance race here Saturday.

A blue-blooded 4-year-old bred and owned by Will Farish and others, Rock Slide was somewhat slow to come around as a young horse, and just as his career was on an upwardly mobile trajectory, he chipped a knee at Fair Grounds last winter and went on the shelf for several months.

Trainer Neil Howard, who skipped the Saratoga meet and remained in the Midwest this summer, brought Rock Slide back to the races Aug. 16 at Ellis Park, where he beat a good field while running a snappy seven furlongs in just more than 1:22.

"He's doing really well right now," Howard said. "I still feel good about him. We think we've got him good and sound right now."

Howard said Rock Slide would be nominated to several stakes this fall, including the Sept. 29 Washington Park Handicap.

Howard also said that New Orleans Handicap winner Parade Leader is on his way back from a layoff and has worked "a couple half-miles." Parade Leader is likely to be pointed to a winter campaign in New Orleans.

Mystery Giver likely to stay home

Mystery Giver had his first breeze Thursday since he finished last in the Arlington Million, working four furlongs on turf in 49 seconds. There was only one other half-mile turf work Wednesday, but judging by times at other distances, and the fact that dogs were placed far out in the turf course, Mystery Giver's work was swift.

Trainer Chris Block said he's leaning toward starting Mystery Giver here in the Sept. 29 Sea O'Erin Breeders' Cup Mile. Block also had considered shipping Mystery Giver to Kentucky Downs for the Kentucky Cup Turf.

"He needs pace, and with Bonapaw in there he'll at least have pace in the Sea O'Erin," Block said. "He needs a positive race. I'm not sure he can get there at a mile, but I think he can have a positive race."