10/03/2003 12:00AM

Lenny the Lender reaches for Sky and beyond


FORT ERIE, Ontario - Lenny the Lender, a 7-year-old gelding who is still looking for his first 2003 victory after seven tries, has emerged as Fort Erie's newest hero.

Last Sunday at Woodbine, at odds of 25-1, Lenny the Lender was just a nose short of nailing winner Bowman Mill at the wire in the Grade 2, $271,750 Sky Classic Handicap, a prep for the $1.5 million, 1 1/2-mile Pattison Canadian International on Oct. 19.

"It was the thrill of a lifetime - a horseman's dream that came true," said Richard Jukosky, an owner-trainer who claimed Lenny the Lender two years ago for $7,500. Finishing behind the Fort Erie-based Lenny the Lender in the Sky Classic were millionaire Strut the Stage and near-millionaire Mobil.

"On Monday, I was on the phone all day and night receiving congratulations," said Jukosky, an ex-Bell Canada employee who took an early retirement package in March 1993 and stepped up his involvement in racing.

Jukosky had entered the Sky Classic reluctantly. "I couldn't find another race [on the grass] for him," he said. "And, I felt Strut the Stage was definitely out of my range.

"But I did feel I had a shot at Mobil," Jukosky said. "We finished second to him in the Halton," a restricted stakes at Woodbine on Sept. 1, "and there was no pace in the race. If there had been, we might have been right there."

With 10 minutes to go before entries closed for the Sky Classic, and encouraged by fellow trainer Dan Poliziani, Jukosky entered.

"I was very, very nervous as the race approached," said Jukosky, 64. "I didn't want to overclass Lenny; I love him that much. I knew he would try, and I was sick to my stomach - I have never had a horse in this caliber of race."

Jukosky, however, thought Lenny the Lender would love the 1 3/8-mile distance. And, based on recent workouts, he also knew his runner was vastly improved.

Lenny the Lender raced just once for Jukosky in 2001 after the claim, as he was put away for the year after finishing seventh. It was discovered that the horse had stomach problems, and that humidity and hot weather were poison to him.

Unless the weather was cool, Jukosky's training methods had to be very delicate, and under the trainer's care, Lenny the Lender has blossomed.

"He's at the top of his game right now in this cool weather," Jukosky said. "He's a different horse altogether. He's gotten stronger and stronger."

Lenny the Lender has been racing since 1998, when he was winless in four starts as a 2-year-old while competing in maiden special weights. He was claimed for $40,000 when he won his maiden in his first start as a 3-year-old, and he followed that race with an allowance win.

His connections raced him in the Canadian Triple Crown series. High-profile racing enthusiast Earle Mack had bought in after Lenny the Lender finished fourth in the Queen's Plate and sixth in both the Prince of Wales and the Breeders' Stakes.

Thereafter, the horse had little success. His third win came in June 2001 in his 19th lifetime start, a $14,000 claimer here at Fort Erie. The rest of Lenny the Lender's seven career wins have been for Jukosky.

Jukosky, who has seven horses, operates from his 28-acre farm in Fort Erie.

His wife, Carol, and his 24-year-old granddaughter, Amanda, are his sole employees. Marie Richards, an ex-jockey who is the wife of Martin Ramirez, the Fort's leading rider, exercises Jukosky's runners.

Amanda, a graduate of Waterloo University, is qualified to pursue a career in a medical field, but she didn't - her passion for horses won out.

Lenny the Lender will go next in the Chief Bearhart Stakes on the Canadian International program. He was not nominated for the International, and Jukosky balks at the $60,000 supplement fee.