03/21/2009 12:00AM

Hicklin exchanges quantity for quality

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OLDSMAR, Fla. - Trainer Judi Hicklin's phone rang the other day, and when she answered a voice with a distinct accent said, "Ms. Hicklin, this is Gary Player calling."

"I thought it was one of my friends playing a joke on me," she recalled. "I said, 'C'mon, you're kidding me.' "

The person on the other end chuckled and assured her that he was, indeed, the world-famous golfer and explained that he was calling to speak to her about the possibility of bringing her graded stakes winner Let It Rock to South Africa for stud duty after his career was over.

"He is really a very nice man, and once I got over the shock we had a good conversation," Hicklin explained. "He's very knowledgable about the game, and, who knows, someday Let It Rock may wind up in South Africa."

Hicklin, a regular here for several years, has scaled back her operation the past few seasons, due to the economic downturn and a difficulty in finding good stock. But what she has lost in quantity, she's made up for in quality. She has eight horses in her stable, but two of those are graded stakes winners, including Let It Rock who rallied through the stretch to post a three-quarter-length upset in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback at Oaklawn Park on March 7.

The win was the fourth from 16 lifetime starts for Let It Rock, a son of End Sweep. Hicklin purchased him for $24,000 at an Ocala 2-year-old sale in 2007 and he has now earned $171,748.

Unfortunately, Let It Rock came out of the race with a cracked shin and will be sidelined for some time. While Hicklin was disappointed, she was pleased the injury was not career-ending.

"He's going to be off a while, but the vets say with time and rest he could come back good as new," she said. "It's just a shame, because I think he was just beginning to come into his own."

With Let It Rock on the sidelines, the big horse in the barn once again is Wayzata Bay, a 7-year-old graded stakes winner who has won 14 of 48 starts and more than $687,000.

Wayzata Bay was unplaced in the recent Challenger Stakes, but Hicklin said he was not 100 percent that day and was victimized by a slow early pace.

"They went the first quarter in 25, and he needs a quicker pace than that to run at," she said. "There aren't any more stakes around two turns for older horses at the meet, but we're hoping maybe to run him in an overnight handicap later this month. He's just such a consummate professional and now that his career is winding down, I don't even want to think about not having him around."

Hicklin also has some promising youngsters, including Excursion, a colt who has a win and second from two starts locally, and Tripstar, a maiden winner this meet.

"We may not have a shed row full of horses, but it's nice to look down the stalls and see two graded stakes winners," Hicklin said.

* Trainer Forrest Kaelin has quietly been enjoying on a hot streak lately and won two races on Friday's program. Kaelin, a mainstay on the Kentucky circuit and at Fair Grounds for years, has won six races in the past two weeks. Kaelin, who has been in the game for more than 40 years, developed a number of top stakes runners, including Fanueil Hall.

* Carlos Cruz, who continues to gain momentum at the meeting, had a riding triple Friday, raising his win total for the meeting to 19.

* Attendance and handle figures for the March 14 Festival Day were down from last year. Attendance was 10,420, compared to 12,746 in 2008; while ontrack handle was $876,330 compared to $938,178. Out-of-state simulcast totals were $7,532,143, compared to $8,406,969 in 2008.