08/06/2001 12:00AM

Hills barn mourning loss of I'm Sentimental to infection


OCEANPORT, N.J. - I'm Sentimental, one of the top horses in the barn of Tim Hills, died two weeks ago after suffering from an infection that has not been diagnosed.

I'm Sentimental, a 4-year-old by Out of Place out of Very Sentimental, was a versatile colt who could run on both dirt and turf. He came to the races as a 3-year-old, making only one start at that age here last summer. As a 4-year-old, I'm Sentimental, owned by Lawrence Foggle, came into his own.

He made his first eight career starts sprinting on the dirt, compiling five wins, four of which came consecutively at Gulfstream and Hialeah. His lone stakes win came in the Hialeah Sprint Championship Handicap on April 7. This summer, he won an allowance race before finishing second in both the $75,000 Longfellow Stakes and the $50,000 Bet Twice Stakes. The Bet Twice may have been his best career effort, as he started for the first time on the turf and around two turns, losing to graded stakes-placed Sardaukar. He ended his career with a record of 5-2-0 in nine starts.

The day after the Bet Twice, run Saturday, July 14, I'm Sentimental was "bright and cheerful," according to Hills. But the following day, he came down with a fever of 104. Veterinarians medicated the colt to bring the fever down and were temporarily successful, but the next day the fever returned. The horse was sent to New Bolton Center, where he was treated for a swollen chest and sinus infection. The horse battled for five days but then foundered and was euthanized.

"The vets were scratching their heads," Hills said. "It was a mysterious infection, and they didn't know what it was caused from."

Hills said that the infection was similar to one seen in cattle, in which bacteria gets into the muscle tissue and infects the whole body.

"It has been a few weeks of mourning in the barn," he said.

Although there is little consolation for such a loss, Hills's barn had great success on Sunday. Hills sent out Joe's Son Joey to a second-place finish in a turf allowance and won the Grade 3, $100,000 Eatontown Handicap for fillies and mares on the turf with Cousin Gigi at 25-1, the longest price on the board.

It was Cousin Gigi's first turf stakes appearance, and she won convincingly from right off the pace.

"I probably wouldn't have run her if the owner [Harry Minassian] hadn't wanted to," said Hills. "But he wanted to run her in a stakes, and even though this was graded, we thought we'd take a chance. She is now putting her ability together, especially since we experimented with taking her off the pace."

Runaway rabbit

Dennis Manning's intention was for Key Lory, unraced on the turf, to assure a fast pace for entrymate Ready to Roll in the Grade 3, $100,000 Oceanport Handicap for 3-year-olds and up on the grass.

So much for that intention.

Key Lory went to the lead in his turf debut, and never stopped, holding on for a half-length victory over Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up North East Bound. Where to next for the breakout turf sensation, who made his first 17 career starts on the dirt?

"I don't know what I will do this horse now," said Manning, who is now presented with a fortunate problem.

"My assistant trainer Nicole Roman had been trying to get me to run this horse on the turf," he added. "He worked over the grass the other day and went perfectly. I was trying to assure a fast pace for Ready to Roll, but he went out there and beat the BC Mile runner-up in his grass debut."

Key Lory paid $29.20 to win, but surely would have been a much higher price had he not been coupled with local stakes winner Ready to Roll.

Proudtobeaprado back on dirt

The Wednesday feature is a $37,000 one-other-than allowance for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the dirt, carded as the eighth race on a nine-race card. Proudtobeaprado, despite running well in the Southampton at Philly Park in her first stakes and turf start, will be entered back on the dirt. Proudtobeaprado, a $50,000 Ocala March purchase as a 2-year-old last year, has a maiden win over the track here and a third-place neck defeat at Wednesday's conditions on June 24. Eibar Coa gets the call from post 3.

Rift Valley, a $425,000 yearling purchase, has not paid dividends for trainer Rusty Arnold and owner G. Watts Humphrey. With the addition of blinkers in her first start here, Wednesday's feature may be the spot for Rift Valley to get back on track. Chris DeCarlo will be aboard Rift Valley from post 1.