03/10/2008 11:00PM

Longshot winner for a cause

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Autism awareness has radically changed Johnny Taboada's life since his 8-year-old son, Renzo, was diagnosed with the disease at age 2.

Autism Awareness has also radically changed Taboada's life since scoring the biggest upset in the 27 runnings of the Grade 3 El Camino Real Derby last Saturday at Bay Meadows. The 3-year-old Autism Awareness, who didn't win his maiden until his 13th start, won the 1 1/16-mile El Camino Real in his next start, returning $126 for a $2 win bet.

The victory sparked talk of a run at the Triple Crown trail, but Autism Awareness's Derby dream was short-lived. On Tuesday, the colt was found to have a minor knee injury that he likely suffered during the running of the El Camino Real, Taboada said. He said Autism Awareness would be sidelined for three to four months and would be aimed for a comeback in the fall.

The colt's name was suggested by Taboada's wife, Hedieh. Appropriately, the name is serving its purpose, thanks to his stunning victory in the El Camino Real.

"You can't imagine how many calls I've gotten," said Taboada, the director of operations for a Silicon Valley company as well as a mortgage broker. "I don't know when I can get back to all of the calls."

Newspapers and television and radio stations are calling to get the story of Taboada's remarkable 3-year-old and, in turn, increase awareness about autism.

By Tannersmyman, whose lone stakes victory was in the James Lytle at Santa Rosa, out of the 1-for-7 Sharp Victor mare Lady Essex, Autism Awareness walked into the sales ring of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association's Northern California sale at Pleasanton in 2006, where he was consigned by Woodbridge Farm, acting as agent for owners Jim Eaton, Paul Arndt, Dave Marabella, and Terry Smith. He had one older full sister, Just Shirley, a maiden whose career was cut short by an injury sustained in her third start.

The minimum price at the auction was $1,000. There were no bids until Taboada's hand went up. There were no other takers, and yet, when Taboada and his trainer, Genaro Vallejo, went back to check out the colt, several trainers approached them and offered to buy the colt for $2,000.

Taboada turned them down, explaining, "I wasn't there for a quick buck."

Taboada also has a 2-year-old full sister to Autism Awareness, named Cure Autism, and recently inquired about privately purchasing a full brother to Autism Awareness.

Sue Greene, the owner and manager of Woodbridge Farm, said the owners, who do business under the acronym S.A.M.E., originally planned to take the unnamed yearling to this year's CTBA Northern California sale in August, but now feel he would fit well at the Barretts select sale in September.

Sprint attracts field of five

Five runners entered Saturday's Grade 3, $125,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint.

On paper, the six-furlong event appears to be a match race between Tribesman, winner of five straight, including the Sausalito Stakes at Golden Gate Fields and the Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise last out, and Vicarino, who set a Bay Meadows track record for five furlongs in his last start.

Stakes winners Bonfante and Double Action and stakes-placed Jack Hes Tops round out the field.

Saturday also marks the first day that the turf course will be used, and Sunday features round one of the Triple Play series, a 1 1/16-mile race for $10,000 claimers.

Alvarado remains red-hot

Frank Alvarado rode 10 winners last week after being blanked Thursday. He won four on Saturday, three on Sunday, and two on Monday's card.

Trainer Steve Sherman sent out nine winners for the week, twice winning the opening double. He teamed with Alvarado for four of the wins and Russell Baze for three others.

* Five 3-year-old fillies meet in a one-mile starter allowance that highlights Thursday's card. Harmony Creator, coming north for the first time after winning a $40,000 maiden claimer on Feb. 14 at Santa Anita, and Gail Force Wins, the runner-up against similar company in her first start at the distance, seem the top contenders.