11/23/2001 12:00AM

Live at the Half wins sprint at 8

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PORTLAND, Ore. - What a long, strange trip it has been for the 8-year-old gelding Live at the Half, who returned to the place where he first entered training last Friday and won the second race at Portland Meadows.

Then Live at the Half went back to trainer Dick Occhiuto's barn and bedded down in a stall next to a 2-year-old filly named Lady Annahalf, who is one of at least five of his daughters or sons currently in training here.

Live at the Half, a Florida-bred son of Gate Dancer from the Time Tested mare Day and a Half, was purchased in California as a 2-year-old early in 1995 for $40,000 by local trainer Eric Jensen. The trainer had him shipped to Portland Meadows to begin training, but the journey did not go smoothly.

"He came down with shipping fever and nearly died," reported Jensen. "As it was, he lost the use of one of his lungs. He has raced his whole career with one lung, and that gives you an idea of what kind of horse he was cut out to be. There is no question in my mind he would have been Breeders' Cup material if he hadn't lost that lung."

With just one functioning lung, Live at the Half won his juvenile debut at Salem by 5 1/2 lengths, then placed in two of four tries against allowance company at Bay Meadows. At 3 he won a mile allowance race at Bay Meadows and finished a close second in that track's Menlo Park Stakes at a mile on the grass, then at four he set a new track record at Emerald Downs when he defeated $40,000 company with six furlongs in 1:08 flat. Those accomplishments prompted Jensen to breed Live at the Half to several mares shortly after he turned five.

"He ended up getting nine foals, but one of them died," reported Jensen. "They are 2-year-olds now, and I think most of them are in training here. Only a couple have started, but the trainers say that several of them are showing promise."

Live at the Half reentered training after the 1998 breeding season and was sent to California, where he was claimed by trainer Ron Glatt. Glatt ended his stud career by gelding him, then eventually sold him to trainer Wayne MacDonnell at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia.

Fast forward now to last April, when Dick Occhiuto received a call from a man in Florida who wanted to sell him some horses.

"It was a 3-horse package for $10,000, delivered," Occhiuto recalled. "I had just won a race at Pomona with Icicle Angel, so I had some extra money and bought them sight unseen. The key to the deal was a well-bred 2-year-old filly named Diamond Maria, then there was an older horse, and the third horse was Live at the Half. I thought, "You've got to be kidding,' " but I wanted the filly and he was just a throw-in.

"Well, it turned out that the filly was about the size of a big dog and she had a flapper problem, so I gave her away. The other older horse had an ankle the size of a grapefruit and I sold him for $300, so all I got for my $10,000 was Live at the Half. He had been racing for $3,500 at Penn National, and by the time I got him he was severely underweight. He looked like death warmed over."

Live at the Half was turned out to put on weight through the summer and didn't enter training until

Oct. 15, yet a month and a day later he led throughout to post his ninth career win over a tough field of $2,500 veterans at 5 1/2 furlongs.

"I've never done anything like that in my life, but he was getting so obnoxious around the barn that I felt I had to run him," said Occhiuto. "He is a very cantankerous horse, and very eccentric. Everything has to be done the way he likes it, and he doesn't like much. He is just a sour old horse.

"But when I was saddling him on Friday I got the strangest impression that he was finally happy, that he was finally where he wanted to be. Then he went out and won like a professional racehorse. It was really kind of neat to see."