08/25/2002 11:00PM

He did his job - and then some


DEL MAR, Calif. - There were races on the Pacific Classic undercard last Sunday that honored Jose Cuervo, Jack Daniels, Finlandia, Heineken, and Budweiser. Their products were enthusiastically sampled by the crowd of 36,041 throughout the sun-drenched afternoon.

In the winner's circle after the Classic itself, a large group representing Korbel champagne lifted plastic flutes of golden bubbly and toasted themselves, the day, and the effervescent victory of the powerful little colt Came Home.

At about the same time, Bosque Redondo was being served with a variety of therapeutic refreshments that included Valium, acepromazine, Banamine, phenylbutazone, penicillin, butorphanol, and a vasodilator. He asked for ice and he got it, a whole tub full, along with a Kimzey splint and a Robert Jones bandage to support the remnants of his right front fetlock joint.

Came Home and Bosque Redondo left on the same van that same morning from Hollywood Park, where they had been preparing for their respective roles in the Pacific Classic. It was Bosque Redondo's job to set the stage and Came Home's job to take the bows - sort of like Linda Ronstadt opening for the Rolling Stones. But somewhere along the way, David Flores and Bosque Redondo bolted from the script.

They tried to win.

They tried so hard that Bosque Redondo was still in the thick of the Classic with an eighth of a mile to run. He was still battling hard with less than a sixteenth of a mile to the wire. At the end, he finished fifth, although he was beaten just a half-length for third and less than three lengths by the winner. It was by far the best race of his 17-race career.

It was also his last. While pulling up past the wire, the sesamoid bones of Bosque Redondo's ankle shattered and the ligaments broke loose like cheap guitar strings. Nothing pierced the skin, which was lucky, but the damage inside the joint was comprehensive.

"Fatigue has a lot to do with, I think," said Dr. Greg Ferraro of the University of California at Davis, who was on the scene at Del Mar. "He ran a good race, he's tired, he's pulling up and starting to relax and change his gait. That's when it happens. In a race like that, so highly competitive, those horses are all giving 110 percent."

Local veterinarians Jeff Blea and Joe Dowd were standing near the clubhouse rail, watching the Classic field pull up, when Bosque Redondo took his terrible step. Flores came off and the horse hobbled on, pounding his injured leg into the ground.

"They jumped over the rail and got to that leg right away," Ferraro said. "They replaced the joint in the proper alignment and got the splint on right away. If that horse makes it, those guys deserve a lot of credit."

At Del Mar's Barn D late on Sunday afternoon, where Paco Gonzalez had borrowed two stalls from Jenine Sahadi's shed row, Bosque Redondo lowered his head and pawed the ice tub with his splinted leg as the analgesics and sedatives took hold. Gonzalez stood outside the stall, his pants splashed with water and torn at the knee where he had hurdled a fence to get to his horse.

He did not look like a trainer who had just won a million-dollar race.

"Look at his face, the pain," Gonzalez said. "I felt the ankle. There was nothing but pieces."

Gonzalez did not bother to fake a smile in the Came Home winner's circle. He was more concerned about the pictures that arrived at the barn at 4 p.m. when Dr. Vince Baker returned with Bosque Redondo's X-rays. One of the sesamoids was splintered, the other cracked cleanly in two, leaving the leg without support.

"What's important now is to see just how much circulation he has past the injury," said Dr. Sam Bradley, who regularly tends to the Gonzalez horses. "When the digital arteries get stretched that much, they'll tighten down and then, over the next 24 hours, start to get spasmodic, trying to open up again.

"But if you can get him in ice right away, you can keep the swelling down, and that encourages circulation. Secondly, if you do want to do surgery, you have a lot more viable tissue to work with. You don't have to be cutting through large gelatinous blood masses."

Hopefully, Bosque Redondo will not need to pay the ultimate price for Came Home's victory in the Pacific Classic. His thankless job as a "rabbit" was intended to hound War Emblem on the lead. In Europe, pacemakers abound. But a stable rabbit is an odd sight in America. American owners usually can't afford to spend their horseflesh that way.

Even so, Bosque Redondo was a stakes winner with an admirable record and longshot's chance, and he proved it by outrunning his role. Now, he is in a whole different kind of fight. There will be extensive surgery performed to fuse the joint, and a recovery period that bears no guarantees.

The people closest to Bosque Redondo describe him as a horse with plenty of class and a generous heart. He'll need both, because he's running this race alone.