10/17/2002 12:00AM

As long as he's competitive, Sandy will run


When you see Say Florida Sandy still running as an 8-year-old, you might think he is a gelding. He is not.

The richest New York-bred of all time, Say Florida Sandy could follow his successful racing career, which includes $1,930,355 in earnings and 18 stakes wins, with a second career as a stallion. But so far, Say Florida Sandy's owner, John Rotella, has not been inclined to sell the horse for stud duty.

Say Florida Sandy, fourth in the Grade 2 Forest Hills on Oct. 6, is scheduled to make his next start in Saturday's $125,000 Hudson Handicap at Belmont Park on New York Showcase Day.

Rotella, 54, an owner of a scrap metal company in New Jersey who claimed Say Florida Sandy for $60,000 in February 1998, has turned down offers to sell.

"I really hadn't put a lot of effort into selling Sandy because the numbers didn't work," said Rotella, who doesn't own any mares and is therefore uninterested in standing the horse on his own. "But I have to be realistic. He's another year older; he's not a machine. If he stays competitive, fine. If not, I'm never going to put him in a claiming race and watch someone run him into the ground."

This year, Say Florida Sandy has not been nearly as good as he was the past two years when he earned a total of $982,207. His earnings this year are $157,810, with a record of 2-1-2 in eight starts. Besides winning a pair of allowance races, Say Florida Sandy finished a solid second behind top sprinter Orientate in the Grade 2 A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga. He also was third in the Grade 3 Bold Ruler and fourth in both the Grade 1 Carter and Grade 2 Forest Hills.

Rotella said Say Florida Sandy, who has won 23 races for him, including 14 stakes, is an amazingly sound horse for his age.

"I've never seen him look this good, although he has run better races," Rotella said. "After [the Forest Hills] he was feeling so good, you could hardly walk him in the test barn. It's strange, but I think if he sees he can't win, he packs it in. He's so smart, he doesn't want to extend himself."

If he entered stud next year as a 9-year-old, Say Florida Sandy, a son of leading New York sire Personal Flag, would be 12 before his first crop was of racing age. He could be into his teens before his reputation as a stallion was determined.

"With this pedigree the foals are a little slower to mature, so Say Florida Sandy could be 13 before you would expect anything," said Joe McMahon, who stands 19-year-old Personal Flag, a sire of 11 crops of racing age, at his farm, McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds. "I've spoken to [Rotella] before about standing Say Florida Sandy. God, what a wonderful horse."

No matter what the future holds for Say Florida Sandy, it won't detract from a wonderful career that so far has spanned seven years, 88 starts, five trainers, and three owners.

A seven-time New York-bred champion, Say Florida Sandy, who is currently trained by Victor Cuadra, has a record of 30-16-11, including wins in five graded stakes.

Bred and originally raced by Sanford Bacon, Say Florida Sandy was the fifth and the best foal out of Lolli Lucka Lolli, who also produced Dancin Renee, a graded winner of $497,546. Unfortunately, Lolli Lucka Lolli, a daughter of Sweet Candy, was carrying a full sibling to Say Florida Sandy when she died from colic last year at 17.

Bacon still profits from being the breeder of Say Florida Sandy. The New York State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund has paid Bacon $243,467 in breeder awards. Bacon receives a 20 percent breeder award, up to $10,000 per race, any time Say Florida Sandy finishes in the top four in any race run in New York.

Rotella has cleaned up in owner awards, which have earned him $157,361 on top of purse money. Rotella is on the receiving end of a 20 percent owner award from the fund when Say Florida Sandy finishes in the top four in open races run in New York with at least a $30,000 claiming value. The cap is $20,000 per race.

Money aside, there is another reason that Rotella, who owns six other runners, is so attached to Say Florida Sandy.

"He's fun to be around," Rotella said. "My wife and I are always talking about Sandy. Sometimes we even get tired talking about Sandy all the time. I just want to give him a good home when the time comes. If he wasn't a stud, there is a farm in New Jersey he goes for vacations and I could visit him there all the time."