05/26/2004 11:00PM

Kirby inherits a graded-stakes runner


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Frank Kirby already was having a nice little run. The end of the Hawthorne meet was good to him, and through last Sunday he was tied atop the Arlington trainer standings with four wins.

And just like that, he has a legitimate graded stakes horse in his barn.

Bare Necessities, Grade 1-placed and a multiple graded-stakes winner, was transferred from trainer Wally Dollase in California to Kirby a couple weeks ago. Thursday, she had her first work for Kirby, breezing five furlongs under Rene Douglas in 1:00.20, the fastest of 22 works at the distance.

"Rene said she went excellent," Kirby said. "She was aggressive and really worked well. I'm real happy to have her."

He must be. Kirby runs a large stable in Chicago, but it is composed mostly of Illinois-breds and claimers. Horses of this quality don't often wander in off the street. Kirby regularly trains for Bare Necessities's owner, the Iron County Farm of George Middleton, and Kirby's brother, Lon, is the Iron County farm manager. Kirby said Bare Necessities came to him "because her races are all in this part of the country, anyway."

Indeed, Bare Necessities has already made five trips to the Midwest. In her most recent start, she was second as the favorite in the Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne, a race she won last year.

Kirby rarely ships horses out of town, but there is no race for her at Arlington until the Sept. 4 Arlington Matron. Kirby said the immediate goal is the $400,000 Fleur de Lis on June 12 at Churchill, and he obviously has been giving the rest of the summer careful consideration. Tucked in Kirby's coat pocket Thursday morning was a handwritten list of possible starts for Bare Necessities over the course of the summer.

When you have a horse like this, it gets you to thinking.

Romero keeping a sense of humor

Randy Romero has regular sessions on a dialysis machine. He lives week-to-week. At some point, vital organs will need to be replaced. You might think the news that he had not been elected to Thoroughred racing's Hall of Fame would have brought him down. Instead, the joke he made Wednesday in the Arlington Park racing office still was making the rounds Thursday morning.

"I feel like Susan Lucci," Romero had said.

Lucci, the actress of soap opera fame, was nominated for an Emmy Award 19 times before she finally won. Romero has a long way to go, but his rejection this year made it two in a row.

"Sure, I'd like to get in," he said. "I'd like to have a chance to enjoy it while I'm still around. I hope they don't wait until I die."

All this came out in high spirits. Romero's condition, still serious, has improved significantly since he hit bottom a couple years ago. He looks fairly well, and is booking mounts at Arlington for two riders, Jose Martinez Jr. and Liz Morris. Not too long ago, he won a few races himself.

When they show that clip of Personal Ensign getting up in the last jump to beat Winning Colors in the Breeders' Cup Distaff? That's Romero on her. Two-time Eclipse winner Go for Wand? Romero was aboard for all 13 of her races. Overall, in a career incessantly interrupted by injury, Romero rode 4,294 winners, earning purses of more than $75 million. It sounds kind of like a Hall of Fame career. Romero hopes others come around to feeling the same way - before too long.

Apalachee Special breaks through

There are dry spells, and there are major droughts. Apalachee Special won a race here Wednesday, ending one of the latter.

Two more months, and it would have been five years since the 9-year-old Apalachee Special's last win. But the end of his 32-race losing streak did not sneak up on anyone: Apalachee Special was an odds-on favorite in a field reduced to five, largely by a switch from turf to dirt.

Still, the old boy looked good winning, and this was a $25,000 race, not a bottom-level claimer. Last early, he moved easily into contention on the backstretch, challenged for the lead coming into the stretch, and finished steadily to beat a horse named Rahy Pavo by three-quarters of a length. Thursday morning, back in trainer Charlie Livesay's barn, Apalachee Special was feeling good enough to bite and nip and eat as many peppermints as he could get.

Asked how he got the horse back to form this year, Livesay said: "A lot of candy."

There is so much more to it than that. Livesay, a veteran trainer from Colorado, always does well with the older set. "I baby them," he said.

There might be some of that. There is plenty of care. Even after Apalachee Special came back safe, Livesay's tone still went grim when he talked about worrying over his horse.

Apalachee Special has overcome plenty. There have been chronic ankle problems. Worse was a fractured cannon bone that needed 18 screws and a steel rod to repair. Some of the hardware remains in the horse's leg.

He is a tall horse, with a long stride, fluid when he feels right, and for a couple minutes Wednesday afternoon, you did not notice all that Apalachee Special has been through.