04/08/2005 12:00AM

Lord of the Game has become quite a find


STICKNEY, Ill. - There is a tiger hidden back in Barn A on the Hawthorne Race Course backstretch, a big, beautiful, dark bay 5-year-old as fast as anything stabled in Chicago right now.

Lord of the Game was cut out to be this kind of racehorse, but he has taken a winding path to get here. And how long Lord of the Game can hold his form is an open question.

Lord of the Game is unbeaten in four races, blazing through his last two allowance conditions with disdain for the opposition. He won March 11 at Hawthorne by more than 11 lengths and came back last Saturday to beat third-level allowance horses by almost eight. Even when Lord of the Game encountered adversity, in a race during the winter at Fair Grounds, he found a way to the wire, winning by a half-length.

Just as striking was his debut here last Dec. 31, which came, startlingly, in a $10,000 maiden claimer. A 6-1 shot with a little-known apprentice rider aboard, Lord of the Game led midway through that first start by a half-length. By the stretch call he was up 10, and at the finish, Lord of the Game was clear by 22 3/4 lengths.

"I knew he'd win easy," said the trainer Jim McMullen, a nephew of the late Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson. "It was a question of how long he was going to hold up physically."

McMullen had saddled Lord of the Game, but afterward handed the horse over to a groom for trainer Tom Tomillo, who had claimed Lord of the Game for the owner Bill Slevin.

"We got pretty lucky with that one," Tomillo said last week. "There were two horses in that day for 10 [thousand dollars], and I said we might as well take both of them. One of them might turn out."

McMullen also trained Tomillo's other claim, Baptistry, who has yet to win a maiden race. Both horses were bred and owned by the powerful WinStar Farm of Kentucky. Lord of the Game is by Saint Ballado and out of an A.P. Indy mare, a top-end pedigree. But there were, of course, substantive reasons he made his debut just one day shy of his fifth birthday.

"I don't know the whole story, but he had a tendon as a 2-year-old, and they ended up [gelding] him," said McMullen. "WinStar is in the business of making stallions, and the way their operation runs, he was a giveaway. But obviously, when you see him go out and do what he's done, it makes you wish you were a part of it."

Team Tomillo, on the other hand, says it sees no outward sign of a compromising injury. Lord of the Game is a difficult horse to gallop, headstrong and tough to hold, but that is a good thing if properly managed. Long-bodied and long-legged with a handsome head, Lord of the Game dances and nips and is aggressive but poised.

"He's good right now, I'll tell you that," said Tomillo's top assistant, Lalo Rodriguez, whose son, Hugo, gallops Lord of the Game.

Lord of the Game is a perfect horse for the Claiming Crown, but that lies months away. Tomillo, who as of Friday topped the Hawthorne standings with 20 wins, said Lord of the Game has been nominated to several stakes, including the National Jockey Club here April 23.

Sales stakes top Sunday program

There are two stakes races here Sunday, both for horses that passed through the Illinois Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Foundation 2-year-olds in training sale last season. So-called sales stakes, heavily restricted as they are, tend to be watered down, and these $40,000-added, six-furlong races are no exception. The colts and geldings division, which goes as race 6, drew eight horses, and the filly division, race 8, appears to be stronger and drew a field of 11.

Heading the filly division is Mamonia Gold, who was entered in the open Meafara Stakes here Saturday, but apparently will scratch in favor of this spot. Her trainer, Hector Magana, suggested all along that the sales stakes was the more suitable spot for his filly, who has brilliant early speed and breaks from the rail.