11/04/2004 12:00AM

Lane back in action with a little help


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Bobby Lane had been training for 10 years when he walked away from the racetrack at the end of the 1996 Woodbine meeting.

Lane's departure was not sorrowful, however. In fact, it was a decision made with the purest of motives.

"My son, Billy, was 7 years old, and I had hardly seen him his whole life," said Lane. "I figured I was only having the one child, and I wanted to be with him while he grew up."

Lane indirectly kept in touch with the horses, as he managed a teletheater in Whitby, Ontario, close to the family home in Oshawa.

"I worked days, and my wife worked nights," said Lane. "I never came to the backside once in seven years. What I was doing was more important."

Once Billy Lane, now 15, made the transition to high school, his father decided the time had come to resume his training career.

"I knew last fall I was coming back this year," said Lane, who returned this March as an assistant to Ross Armata at Fort Erie.

"Ross gave me the opportunity," said Lane. "It was what I needed to get me back. I was starting over. I knew at the end of Fort Erie, I was going back out on my own."

Armata ended up in a tie for second place in the Fort Erie standings, just one shy of the top spot, with 26 wins, and Lane was honored as assistant trainer of the meeting.

In the meantime, owner Herb Tenenbaum, who campaigns with his sons, Lawrence and Martin, as California Stable, was waiting.

Lane always had done some of his best work through the claiming box, with his past successes including the likes of Mamatoldmenottacom, Explosive Position and Dances With Fire. And, at 48, Lane has picked up where he left off since returning here last month.

On Sept. 30, Lane claimed Miss Grindstone for $10,000 for the Tenenbaums. On Oct. 11, he sent her out to win for a $77,500 claiming tag. Miss Grindstone was claimed from that win by Frank Passero, and she will be making her first start for her new barn in Saturday's Ontario Fashion Handicap.

"I never dreamed I'd lose her," said Lane, who was not happy to see Miss Grindstone move on despite turning a pre-expenses profit of almost $68,000 for the Tenenbaums. "She's the best horse I ever had, heart-wise. She's got the heart of a lion."

Lane's brief association with Miss Grindstone prompted him to claim Expected Song for $75,000 when she faced Miss Grindstone on Oct. 11.

"I liked her because she beat Miss Grindstone earlier," said Lane, who nominated Expected Song to the Fashion but has opted to await a friendlier spot.

Lane also claimed Very Professional, a hard-competing older sprinter, for $60,000, and Fuhrever Dancing, a 2-year-old, for $50,000 on behalf of the Tenenbaums.

But the most remarkable moment of Lane's comeback was his first winner, Stuck in Vegas, who rallied from dead last to win a $10,500 maiden race here Oct. 1.

Stuck in Vegas's jockey was Daniel David, who had not ridden in a Thoroughbred race this season.

"The first race I put him on, he was unbelievable," said Lane. "He's still got his touch. He's won a lot of races for me."

David, 40, has had more than his share of ups and downs through a career that began in 1984.

After riding 67 winners at Fort Erie and another three here at Woodbine last season, David had virtually dropped off the map this year and was riding Quarter Horses at nearby Picov Downs when Lane came calling.

"I told him I was going to be running horses in two weeks," said Lane.

David also rode Miss Grindstone to her victory here Oct. 1, a race in which she displayed an uncharacteristic late turn of foot.

That patient style has been a trademark of David's, and is what Lane says makes the rider mesh so well with his horses.

"I don't like to rush them, and that's how I train them," said Lane. "What I do with them in the morning, he transfers to the afternoon."

Delayed backstretch opening at issue

After a slight adjustment in Woodbine's 2005 Thoroughbred dates application, the meeting will now run from April 16 through Dec. 11. Under the original request, the meet would have begun on April 8.

The local Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association did not oppose either the dates or the length of the meeting, which remains at 167 days, but did object to Woodbine's plan to keep the backstretch closed until March 1. The horsemen requested a Feb. 15 reopening.

Nick Coukos, executive director of the horsemen's group, took the concerns to the Ontario Racing Commission last Thursday, to no avail.

"We stressed the fact that we needed more time than six weeks to get horses ready," Couckos said. "We pointed out that it could reduce field size and increase the risk of injury if horses aren't ready to run."

In a ruling released Wednesday, the racing commission agreed with Woodbine's contention that the backstretch issue was not within the commission's jurisdiction.

* Slew's Saga worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 under regular rider Steven Bahen on the fast main track here Wednesday in preparation for the Nov. 13 Coronation Futurity. Trained by Bob Tiller, Slew's Saga is coming off a 9 3/4-length victory in the Cup and Saucer, a 1 1/16-mile turf race.