02/24/2012 4:23PM

Hovdey: Happy ending for one old gelding


The eyes of racing will be focused on the unfinished Thoroughbred 3-year-old products going postward on Sunday in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, as Triple Crown fever begins to boil. And that’s fine. Despite the fact they won’t be fully matured for another two years or so and are roughly the equivalent of college freshmen football stars, they do represent the marquee athletes of the game. Let’s just hope they last.

It never hurts, though, to stand back in appreciation of Thoroughbreds who have survived the long haul. Earlier this month, fans were treated to another professional performance by the 10-year-old gelding Crossing the Line, who won a $25,000 claimer coming down the Santa Anita hillside course.

Crossing the Line has led several lives, from his early career in his native New Zealand to his emergence as a force on the Southern California scene for trainer John Sadler in 2007, when his winning streak was climaxed with a victory in the Del Mar Mile. The runner-up that day was Becrux, winner of the 2006 Woodbine Mile.

The Del Mar Mile was the last time Crossing the Line was seen by the racing public for more than two years. Blame it on a damaged tendon. When he returned, in December 2009, he was cautiously placed with $32,000 claimers. No one dropped in a claim.

Now, more than two years and a dozen starts later, Crossing the Line is still running, a battle-scarred vet who seems to be enjoying his job. If he does not win, as he did on Feb. 4, he’s always right there – a horse who can never be thrown out of any exotic gamble.

The same could be said for 10-year-old Musketier, who will be making his 45th career start in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida Sunday at Guifstream. Not only is Musketier still running, he’s still winning. His 44th start was a victory in Calder’s Grade 2 W.L. McKnight.

Old horses – especially geldings who run for lower claiming prices – make a lot of people nervous. When a gelding of a certain age hits the skids, Internet alarms begin to sound, as concerned fans rise in a spirit of concern. Such a horse would be Skylaunch, a 10-year-old gelding entered at Turf Paradise on Sunday to run for a $3,000 claiming tag who is coming off a poor race at the same level in which he finished ninth of 10 runners.

This Skylaunch should not be confused with the consistent Skylaunch of the early 1990s, who won 13 races in 74 starts and more than $400,000. That Skylaunch was by Skywalker, and has found a comfortable retirement at Tranquility Farm near Tehachapi, Calif. The younger Skylaunch is by Skywalker’s son Bertrando. Also, this Skylaunch has managed to earn less than $20,000 in an Arizona-Idaho career of just 32 starts, dating back to November 2006.

Skylaunch (the younger) was away from competition from July 2008 until January of this year. He ran once, poorly, and then found himself waking up one day in the barn of veteran owner-trainer Steve Irlando. Lucky him.

“They just gave him to me, and he’s become kind of a pet,” Irlando said. “I have a lot of horses given to me. Used to be folks would turn a horse out, but not anymore it seems. People know I like to work with the older horses, and sometimes they do okay. Had two horses win here recently that people had given me.”

Based on his lone race for Irlando, it looked like Skylaunch would need a miracle to find winning form, and the owner tended to agree.

“His tendons just didn’t look right to me – not for racing anyway,” Irlando said. “I’ll be putting in a scratch for him Sunday. Anyway, I’ve already found him a home – a family here in Scottsdale. I always try to find homes for these old horses, even sometimes end up taking them back when the place they went didn’t work out.”

As happy endings go, this hopefully qualifies. Just because they are born Thoroughbreds doesn’t mean they’re meant to be racehorses. Crossing the Line, through all three of his lives, has been fulfilling the promise he showed from the start. Skylaunch tried hard enough to hit the board nine times in addition to his three wins, but you would need to go back to the Bush Administration to find a race in which he was competitive.

“You hate to see them out there longer than they need to be,” Irlando added. “So you can let people know Skylaunch is going to go be a jumper. In fact, we’re going to start jumping him Sunday afternoon. Nice and tall like he is, I think he’ll make a good one.”

Harty inherits 10-year-old gem

While we’re at it, let’s hear it for 10-year-old Porfido, who won his second straight for Eoin Harty last Sunday, running for a $40,000 tag.

The Chilean horse was a stakes runner for Bobby Frankel, then became a useful part of Humberto Ascanio’s small stable upon the passing of his boss. Ascanio suffered a stroke last December, prompting co-owner Pete Fer to shift Porfido to Harty.

“Humberto left a lot in the tank with this old guy, and I haven’t had him long enough to screw him up,” Harty said. “He’s such a neat old horse, though. I swear he could saddle himself. I know Humberto’s working hard toward a recovery. I just hope he can come out some day and watch this horse run.”