11/19/2003 12:00AM

Just another winner the Dickinson way

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PHILADELPHIA - Mark Hopkins and his wife, Carol Twigg, were with Michael Dickinson and his partner, Joan Wakefield, on Nov. 7, 1998, at Churchill Downs. Dickinson basked in the glow that day after Da Hoss won the Breeders' Cup Mile in only his second start following a two-year absence.

Hopkins remembers saying that he would have to wait a long time for Dickinson to pull a training feat like that with one of his horses, because such a "miracle" came along only once every 25 years. Hopkins only had to wait five years.

When A Huevo, owned by Hopkins, began to pass horses Saturday in the De Francis Dash at Laurel Park, anybody who had seen the big horse run knew exactly what was coming next.

"At the top of the stretch, I'm watching on TV and I could see that he had a real big chance," said Hopkins, Andrew Beyer's partner in the Beyer Speed Figures consortium. "When you get wound up, you don't see how easily he's going. You're just urging him on. Carol had the advantage of standing next to Michael, and he said, 'He's just cruising.' "

A Huevo won the Grade 1 race by 1 3/4 lengths, defeating Shake You Down, who had finished third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Even though A Huevo failed to pass several veterinary exams, Hopkins purchased A Huevo after the gelding's second career start on Aug. 8, 1999. A Huevo earned a Beyer Figure of 98 in that allowance win at Delaware Park.

A Huevo was a perfect 3 for 3 after easily winning another allowance race at Delaware, on Sept. 20, 1999. He got a Beyer of 100.

Hopkins planned to run the horse back in a stakes at Philadelphia Park when the racing secretary from Charles Town called and said that A Huevo, a West Virginia-bred, was eligible for the West Virginia Breeders Classic. So they sent A Huevo to Charles Town for the race on Oct. 10, 1999.

A Huevo was 2-5 and ran like 1-9. On a track made sloppy by rain, he cruised by the overmatched field on the backstretch and broke a 25-year-old track record for 1 1/8 miles.

After the race, Hopkins got his trophy and was awaiting his $75,000 check. He's still got the trophy. He's still waiting for the check.

"I called five days after the race expecting to get my big check," Hopkins said. "They said, 'There is a problem. We've got to talk to the stewards.' "

The horse's urine had tested positive for clenbuterol.

"The urine came back a very strong positive," Hopkins said. "The blood came back clean." A hair analysis was also done. That revealed no clenbuterol.

"The only conclusion can be that he didn't race with clenbuterol and it entered the urine after the race," Hopkins said. "If he ran on it, it would be in the blood. It's got to be both. So, it got into the urine after the race. And there is only one explanation for that."

Dickinson values his reputation more than his accomplishments. He fought the positive test hard. After months of legal wrangling, Dickinson got no suspension. Hopkins got no money.

"The resolution of it was I got swindled and Michael got his name back," Hopkins said. "I think everybody at Charles Town, including the kangaroo court of those stewards, knew what happened."

Still, Hopkins was sure A Huevo would be back winning races soon enough and show everybody that he raced clean. Instead, the horse came out of the race with multiple bone chips.

A Huevo was taken out of training. Chips were removed from two front knees and one of the two hocks.

In 2000, A Huevo was working like a super-horse, but he began to drift to his left in works at Dickinson's Tapeta Farm in North East, Md. He had pulled a suspensory, and that was it for that year.

They brought him back again in 2001, but the horse didn't get too far in his training before he had to be shut down again. He got very close to a race last year, but then went bad after a workout.

Hopkins decided it was time to retire A Huevo: "I said, 'Enough, find him a home.' "

Dickinson and Wakefield, however, were not ready to give up. A few weeks later, Hopkins called Dickinson and was told the horse had had a few breezes and was only a couple more away from a race. They didn't want to tell Hopkins because they were sure he wouldn't be able to sleep.

"Most of the time trainers hide workouts from the clockers," Dickinson said. "This the first time anybody has hidden the workouts from the owner."

So they sent A Huevo to Mountaineer Park for a sprint stakes on Aug. 9, nearly four years after Hopkins had bought him. A Huevo opened at odds-on, a testament to bettors' belief in all things Dickinson.

"I remember Carol asking Michael before the race, 'Is this like Da Hoss, will he win?' " Hopkins said.

"Absolutely, he will win," Dickinson told her.

"It's the first time I've ever known him to be wrong," Hopkins said.

A Huevo inexplicably flipped three times in the paddock. He was last early and never ran a step, finishing seventh.

"The only horse that's ever beaten A Huevo is A Huevo," Hopkins said.

Six weeks later, the real A Huevo showed up in an optional claimer at Delaware Park. He ran six furlongs in 1:08.87 and got a Beyer of 103.

They nominated him to the same Charles Town race that had started all this lunacy four years before. If the horse had won his comeback race at Mountaineer, he would have had enough earnings to get into the field. But because he earned no money for finishing seventh, he did not make the Charles Town field.

"Obviously, he would have won it," Hopkins said of the West Virginia Breeders Classic, noting that the race's winner ran a Beyer Figure of 74."

It was, however, the proverbial blessing in disguise. If he runs at Charles Town, maybe he doesn't make the De Francis.

They waited just a little longer.

After A Huevo hit the wire in front in the De Francis Dash, Hopkins was numb.

"It was like being in shock," Hopkins said. "I can't believe this. This didn't happen."

But it did. A Huevo, last at the start, circled the field, ran by top sprinter Shake You Down in the stretch, and won easily. The horse, at more than 17 hands and weighing 1,300 pounds, is impossible to miss on the track. It was also impossible to miss the significance of his 113 Beyer.

Laurel announcer Dave Rodman got it exactly right when he said, as A Huevo was a certain winner, "It's another Michael Dickinson miracle."