07/31/2003 11:00PM

He looked fast standing still


DEL MAR, Calif. - John Russell fished around in his considerable vocabulary and settled on the word that best described the racehorse named Precisionist.

Russell called him glamorous.

That he was, striking from every angle, his chestnut coat aglow like sunlight on lacquered redwood. Precisionist was both large and graceful, classically constructed, a dreamwork of selective Thoroughbred breeding. In the words of the wise guy on the rail, Precisionist looked fast just standing still.

Starting Monday and from now on, the career of Old Glamor Boy will be on display at the Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Precisionist will be inducted - along with a class of 2003 that includes Dance Smartly, Sonny Hine, and Mike Smith - at the National Museum of Racing on Union Avenue. The public is welcome to the ceremony, which is only right, because Precisionist was every inch a crowd-pleaser.

When he was good, he was very good. When he was bad, he was just being Precisionist. Those who were at Hollywood Park on the evening of Dec. 18, 1983, will never forget the sight of a washed-out, wild-eyed Precisionist dragging trainer Ross Fenstermaker and groom Allison Sgroi all the way around the clubhouse turn, on the way to the paddock for the Hollywood Futurity.

It was Fenstermaker's job to keep the pot from boiling over. The record speaks for itself. In 36 starts between the summer of 1983 and November of 1986, Precisionist started 36 times, won 17 races, and came within one victory of becoming 1986 Horse of the Year.

As it was, Precisionist was a champion sprinter who also won such 1 1/4-mile races as the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita and the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park. And while most of his success took place in California, Precisionist had the good sense to cultivate a New York following by winning the 1985 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Aqueduct and the 1986 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

Fenstermaker gets paramount credit for the care and condition of Precisionist. But everyone knew it was Fred Hooper who called the tune of Precisionist's ambitious campaigns. When Mr. Hooper said run, his trainers usually answered with "where" and "when."

Hooper, an Alabama road-builder, bred Precisionist at his Florida farm, from a mating of his Kentucky Derby runner-up Crozier and the Forli mare Excellently. By the time Precisionist came along, there already had been one Hall of Fame horse in the Hooper family. Susan's Girl, a three-time champion, was inducted in 1976.

Susan's Girl had seven different trainers during her five seasons of racing. John Russell took her through 31 of her 63 starts and was responsible for two of her championship campaigns - in 1972 and 1973 - when her 14 stakes victories included the Kentucky Oaks, the Acorn, the Santa Margarita, the Gazelle, and the Beldame.

For her final eight starts, Susan's Girl was trained by Ross Fenster-maker, and he did not let her down. She won the 1975 Delaware Handicap, the Matchmaker, the Spinster, and her second Beldame.

Russell returned the gesture with Precisionist, although the circumstances were dramatically different. When the 7-year-old Precisionist arrived at Russell's Hollywood Park stable, in the spring of 1988, the red horse had not raced in 18 months. He was carrying a screw in a broken ankle. And he had proven to be infertile after two active seasons at stud.

For a trainer, this pretty much describes a no-win situation. Russell's first thought was justified. "You just wondered where this was going to go," he said.

At first, it went wrong. On the day of the comeback, in a one-mile race at Hollywood Park, Precisionist broke like a bullet, stumbled, and threw Chris McCarron. Russell swallowed his tongue.

"Chris hung onto the reins for about the first 30 yards, being dragged along, but trying to keep Precisionist from being a loose horse," the trainer recalled.

"By the time Chris finally had to let go, Precisionist was 10 lengths behind the last horse," Russell went on. "He caught them in the middle of the far turn, drew off and won by himself, literally. And he was loving it, having the time of his life."

Class lasts, and Precisionist, despite his age and his repaired ankle, made a final impact that survives to this day. He won two stakes that summer of 1988 at Del Mar, setting a track record for a mile in one of them, and went on to hit the board in three other stakes, including the NYRA Mile. He even ran in another Breeders' Cup Sprint and was a respectable fifth, beaten barely two lengths by Gulch on a sloppy track at Churchill Downs.

"By then his ankle was starting to bother him," Russell said. "Although, the way he ran, it probably didn't make a bit of difference to him. He just put it out of his mind."

Precisionist did not need that last campaign to earn his place in the Hall of Fame. As icing, though, it was decidedly sweet.

"I really don't feel I played any more than a minor role in his story," Russell added. "But it was a pleasure to be around him. And, yes, he was glamorous. I've always thought Precisionist and Secretariat were the two prettiest horses you ever saw."

If that is the case, Precisionist is right where he belongs.