08/15/2008 12:00AM

McLarens try to beat the odds again


VANCOUVER, British Columbia - There isn't much doubt that El Sinaloense will be heavily favored to win the New Westminster Stakes for 2-year-olds at Hastings next Sunday. After all, El Sinaloense has easily won both stakes for 2-year-olds at the meet, and in his win over Almost Time in the Ladnesian Stakes he posted the best Beyer Speed Figure ever recorded by a juvenile at Hastings.

Trainer Bill McLaren and his wife, Charlene, will be trying to buck the odds when they enter Wildwood Swing in the New Westminster. A win by Wildwood Swing will be nothing compared to the battle Charlene appears to be winning in her fight with cancer.

Bill and Charlene have worked as a team at the racetrack for a long time, and when Charlene was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, a form of cancer, four years ago, Bill stepped away from the track to help Charlene fight her illness. Charlene is usually at the track in the mornings, but on Friday she was at the hospital being treated.

"I never thought Charlene was going to see this colt run," said McLaren. "At one point last year they only gave her six months to live. One of the things we did with her was to take her up to see this guy every couple of weeks when he was a baby. We were hoping it would help her find the energy to stick around longer so she could see what was going to happen next year."

In what seems to be a typical story with cancer patients, Charlene was given a clean bill of health after undergoing chemotherapy for about five months. Unfortunately, when she went back for a checkup a few months later, the cancer had returned.

"When it was discovered the second time they got more aggressive and they went and did stem-cell therapy," said McLaren. "It was quite the process. You had to go and harvest your own stem cells. After they sort out the good stem cells from the bad ones they freeze the good ones with DMSO. It seems to be good for just about anything."

McLaren found it quite amusing that DMSO was used in helping Charlene in her battle with cancer. Dimethyl sulfoxide, as it is formally called, has been widely used on race horses as an anti-inflammatory.

"While they were doing the stem-cell therapy there were about eight or nine bags hanging from a pole all pouring into her body," said McLaren. "It turned out that it didn't cure her cancer but it got rid of her diabetes."

About six months later, the McLarens got the sad news the therapy hadn't worked and that Charlene had about six months to live.

"In the same breath they asked if we would like to try an experimental drug," said McLaren.

With no other options it was pretty much a no-brainer and of course the McLarens said yes. According to McLaren, the drug is called pralatrexate.

"So far so good," said McLaren. "She's been cancer-free since last August. It's a two-year program and we don't know what is going to happen when the treatment ends. We're enjoying life for now, and it sure is nice to be back at the track."

As formidable as El Sinaloense appears to be, Wildwood Swing is cut out to be a very nice horse. He won his debut in a 3 1/2-furlong maiden special race by just a neck, but he did it in style. With Frank Fuentes aboard, Wildwood Swing made up 1 1/2 lengths in the stretch and that's not an easy task at the short distance. He was also impressive when he came back to work five furlongs in 59.80 seconds last Thursday.

"I didn't think he could catch the horse he was chasing, but Frank said as soon as he went and tapped him he just kicked into another gear," said McLaren. "He was fighting shins going into the race but they are perfect now."

McLaren, who bred Wildwood Swing, likes him at least as much as A J Jett, a horse he trained to win three stakes races as a 2-year-old at Hastings in 1994. A J Jett went on to win a minor stakes at Santa Anita and also finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. A J Jett's best race may have been when he finished a close second to Lit de Justice in the El Conejo at Santa Anita as a 3-year-old.

"Ever since Day 1 he has been training super," said McLaren of Wildwood Swing. "We owned his mom and she was cut out to be a nice one but she got hurt in her stall as a 2-year-old. I ran her once at 3 but I could see that her injury was hurting her so we sent her home. We gave her away when Charlene got sick. It was just too much work to go up and take care of her with Charlene being as ill as she was."

Win or lose next Sunday, it's just a horse race. The bigger battle is being won by Charlene, and right now everything else is just gravy. A win would be pretty good therapy, though.