10/16/2001 11:00PM

Hess: Commoner with a royal touch


ARCADIA, Calif. - Bob Hess, on the threshold of only his second Breeders' Cup appearance, could have been back in New York on Wednesday afternoon in the middle of all the action, wolfing down a Breeders' Cup pre-entry luncheon spread and working on his personal public relations.

Instead, he was back home in California, getting a haircut. The man has his priorities.

"I've got to look sharp," he explained. "Just in case."

The scenario is wild. But in his imagination, playing over and over again, Hess can see how it might happen. In the face of a daunting Breeders' Cup Turf field that features Sakhee, Mutamam, With Anticipation, Timboroa, and Hap, here comes Blueprint, storming down the center of the wide Belmont grass course to seize the day. The tote board explodes with boxcars. A floral garland of purple and gold is draped across Blueprint's withers. There are fireworks. A band plays. Small children cry tears of happiness.

To hold up his end of the deal, the 6-year-old Blueprint need only respond with the best race of life.

"Absolutely," said a freshly trimmed Hess. "It's a very formidable group. He'll have to come up with his A-plus race and hope they stub their toe a bit."

Blueprint has been in America for a little more than 15 months. His life abroad, spent in the English countryside, was far from deprived. His original owner and breeder, Mrs. Elizabeth Mountbatten, is more familiarly known to her friends and subjects as Her Majesty the Queen of England.

Now, we mere commoners like to think that Queen Elizabeth isn't short of cash. Still, her racing business is run like a business, and when Blueprint reached the age of 5 without a Group 1 victory or the prospects for a popular stallion career, he went on the block. Bill Bianco and David Shimmon, known as the Fog City Stable, snapped him up and sent him to Hess.

At 36, Bob Hess is a second-generation horseman who has had his share of success in Southern California with such runners as Wekiva Springs, River Keen, Penny Marie, Slerp, and River Special, the 2-year-old who took him to the 1992 Breeders' Cup and finished third in the Juvenile.

It is a harsh fact of life, however, that before Hess came along, Blueprint only had trainers with titles.

Hess can be introduced as the holder of a B.A. in economics from Stanford. But that doesn't quite have the ring of "Lord" Huntingdon, Blueprint's first trainer, or "Sir" Michael Stoute, who picked up the horse when Lord Huntingdon retired.

"Now it's just plain Bob, and not even the right Bob," Hess said, with a nod to famous namesakes Frankel and Baffert.

Of course, most Americans chuckle and shake their heads at the idea of royalty and peerage. We call Elvis the King, and nobody argues. Ellington is the Duke, Basie is the Count, and Lucy is the Queen of Comedy. Hess's B.A. in economics, as far as his neighborhood is concerned, trumps a lot of viscounts.

To Blueprint's credit, he has responded to the common touch. At the age of 6, fully acclimatized to California training, he won both the San Luis Rey and the Sunset handicaps this year, with a third to Bienamado in the San Juan Capistrano sandwiched in between.

Timing and distance, Hess explained, are the keys to Blueprint's management. He won the 12-furlong San Luis Rey after 5 1/2 months on the sidelines and took the 12-furlong Sunset after a break of three months. The 12-furlong Breeders' Cup Turf will be his first race in 3 1/2 months.

"Those are the constants: he runs extremely well when fresh, and he's very, very effective going a mile and a half," Hess said. "And I wasn't going to make the mistake I did last year, when I over-raced him. That was all Bob's fault, but I had the luxury of learning from that experience."

The horse, for his part, rarely misses an oat. He has been ready to ship and run since the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. But Hess has waited - passing races and sticking to his Breeders' Cup approach. It must have been driving him crazy.

"My idols in racing are guys like Charlie Whittingham, Dick Mandella, Bobby Frankel, and Bob Hess Sr.," he said. "Those guys are all about patience, so waiting doesn't test me as much as you think it might.

"Anyway, it's the horse that tells you what to do," he added. "We're just the mediator, the conduit to their success."

As for his prior Breeders' Cup experience, Hess does not recall much about the 1992 Juvenile at Gulfstream Park other than the sight of River Special hitting the front at the eighth pole and then going down with a fight, losing to Gilded Time by barely a length. That, and his infant son Garrison wailing in dad's ear at the deafening noise from the crowd.

"He was about nine months old," Hess said. "He's 10 now, so if his mom lets him go, he's on his way."

Maybe this time, he'll really have something to scream about.