05/07/2003 11:00PM

Men's Exclusive aging well


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - His aged feet do not grow. Instead, they are held together by glue. At times, Men's Exclusive has been so sore he could barely leave his stall. He is a tank, and a racehorse. By trainer Wesley Ward's estimation, Men's Exclusive weighs 1,400 pounds.

And he is ancient, 10 years old. By now, the racing career of Men's Exclusive should be over. Even Ward wonders, "How old would he be in human years?"

But rather than growing old, cheap, and slow, Men's Exclusive has done the impossible - marched backward through time. His last two starts have been nearly as fast as any in his 44-start career, in which he has won 11 races and more than $1.4 million.

"If you look at the numbers on the sheets, he's running as fast as he ran as a 4-year-old," Ward said.

What it means is that everyone was wrong last year, even Ward. "I thought age was finally catching up to him, but he's turned the corner this year. He's just turned into a tiger."

And one trying to make history. Men's Exclusive will try to become the first 10-year-old to win a stakes race at Hollywood Park Saturday. The race - the Grade 3 Los Angeles Times Handicap - is a six-furlong sprint with which Men's Exclusive is familiar. He won it back in 1997, when it was simply the Los Angeles Handicap. Men's Exclusive, owned and bred in California by the now 82-year-old Hartsel Reed, faces eight rivals in the $200,000 race.

The field includes the entry of Echo Eddie and Disturbingthepeace. Giovannetti and Hombre Rapido will contest the pace. Late-runners Golden Hare and Publication will try to run them down. Outsiders Medicis, Do Whats Right, and Laffit help make the race one of the meet's better sprints.

Few horses race at age 10, as Men's Exclusive is doing. "I attribute his longevity to problems with his feet," Ward said. "I only race him when he's right. And without [farrier] Wes Champagne, this horse wouldn't be able to walk."

Champagne has virtually built Men's Exclusive's feet from scratch, using glue. It works, and Men's Exclusive trained brilliantly following an impressive classified win March 19.

Though Men's Exclusive's problematic feet preclude Ward from planning far in advance, he admits he is looking toward the Breeders' Cup Sprint in fall. Men's Exclusive was a $200,000 supplement to the 1997 BC Sprint - he finished sixth as the 7-2 favorite, and, Ward said, "we've been trying to get back ever since.

"If we win [Saturday], we'll probably run him just one more time, then hope to get in [this year]," Ward added.

Men's Exclusive is the only horse still racing who ran in any 1997 Breeders' Cup race. Alex Solis will ride.

The entry of Echo Eddie and Disturbingthepeace might be considered fearsome except for their dubious current form. Owned primarily by David Milch and trained by Darrell Vienna, Echo Eddie and Disturbingthepeace finished seventh and 13th respectively in a March 30 race in Japan. Their fast works aside, Vienna has questions.

"They're both training well, and if the real horses stand up, I like the race," Vienna said.

Vienna expressed concern they could still be affected by their recent travel.