03/18/2009 11:00PM

'Michele' rewards owners' persistence


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Royale Michele has made it from low-level claimer to Grade 2 winner. Perseverance, it seems, is a family trait.

Royale Michele, who seeks her fifth consecutive victory in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct, is out of the dam Michele Royale, who nearly died five years ago. She had suffered from severe colic and was bleeding internally so badly that the decision was made to euthanize her. She was in foal to Favorite Trick at the time. However, Jo Pollock, who along with her husband, Sam, owned Michele Royale, said not to put the mare down.

"My wife said, 'No, that mare owes me nothing, I owe her everything; I want her to die on her own,' " Sam Pollock, who keeps his mares boarded at Taylor Made Farm, said in a telephone interview Thursday. "We told them to give her plenty of sedation. I went by Taylor Made the next day and asked what time that mare died. They said, 'She's up eating hay. She did not lose that baby.' "

While that foal did eventually die by the time it was 2 months old, Michele Royale recovered fully. She got in foal to Elusive Quality that year, and in 2005, she gave birth to a filly who was named Royale Michele. As they do with virtually all of the horses they breed, the Pollocks put Royale Michele through the auction ring, but bought her back when she did not reach her reserve. The first foal out of Michele Royale - whom the Pollocks bought for $140,000 in foal to Unbridled's Song - fetched $1.2omillion at the 2000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale.

The Pollocks gave Royale Michele to trainer Todd Pletcher, who managed to get a maiden win from four starts at Arlington Park and Keeneland. Eventually, Pletcher sent the filly home, telling the Pollocks, "I think I'm taking your money for something that's not worthy of me keeping," Sam Pollock said.

The filly was sent to Taylor Made, where Scott Kintz works as the broodmare manager. The Pollocks decided to send the horse to Scott's brother, Matthew, who trains at Mountaineer Park.

On Nov. 3, Matt Kintz put Royale Michele in a $30,000 claiming race at Mountaineer, which she won by 15o1/2 lengths. Three weeks later, Royale Michele won an optional claiming race at Mountaineer by two lengths.

On Dec. 30, Royale Michele got a dream trip and rallied along the rail to win the $75,000 New Year's Eve Handicap as a 10-1 longshot. Then, Kintz sent her to Laurel, where she won the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie Handicap by 1 3/4 lengths in a race better remembered for the horrific start by the favorite, Seventh Street, who rallied to get second.

Matthew Kintz believes that Royale Michele's ascension is a combination of her ability and some good fortune.

"I do think the filly is getting better," Kintz said from West Virginia. "Her Beyer numbers are very strong. I do have one reservation about coming up there. I do think she's better with a little more distance like the Barbara Fritchie. I'm a little concerned going back to three-quarters with her."

Though Kintz has a stable at Mountaineer, he keeps Royale Michele at a farm he has about 25 miles away in Ohio. Kintz ships Royale Michele to the track only for workouts and races. The rest of the time, he keeps Royale Michele on a jogging machine at his farm. Before sending her to New York, Kintz sent her to a farm near the Fair Hill training center that has a jogging machine.

"Because she does put so much into her training, I do a lot of jogging, which she benefits from," Kintz said. "It's a little more of a relaxed setting at the farm."

Provided Royale Michele comes out of Saturday's Distaff in good order, she will be pointed to the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Last year, that race was won by Intangaroo, a filly that the Pollocks bred.

"We've been very fortunate to have bred a couple of Grade 1 winners, but we've never run a horse on Derby Day," Sam Pollock said.

If Royale Michele gets there, the Pollocks will certainly have quite a tale to tell.

Lights on at training track

Lights made their debut at Belmont Park on Wednesday, but night racing is not coming to the historic racetrack.

The lights were put up at the training track as a safety measure during training hours. The training track opens at 6 a.m., but it doesn't get light out until 6:45 at the earliest. Several light stanchions are already in place, and when the project is completed, there will be 14 stanchions altogether.

"It was a request from horsemen that when we started training frequently it was still two-thirds dark and a little bit of a hazard," said Hal Handel, NYRA's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "It's just a safety thing."

Handel pegged the cost of the lights at less than $100,000.

Bruce Levine, who operates one of the larger stables at Belmont, said he has always trained horses in the dark and was happy to see the lights installed.

"I've always trained early, but I think it's a great safety feature, a long time coming," Levine said. "I think it was very dangerous training in the dark."

Levine said just last week a horse got loose in the dark. Fortunately, no horses or riders got hurt.

"The horse dropped the rider, turned, and went the wrong way and it was pitch dark; it was an accident waiting to happen," Levine said.

* Trainer Gary Contessa won three races on Thursday's card, giving him a meet-best 48 wins, 18 more than Levine. Jockey C.C. Lopez also won three races - none for Contessa - as he opened up a four-win advantage over Rajiv Maragh for second in the standings. Ramon Dominguez is the leading rider with 105 wins.