05/01/2007 12:00AM

'Nobiz' brings owner back to Derby

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The calls came frequently and had a familiar ring to them. The people on the other end of the telephone were raving to Elizabeth Valando about a 2-year-old son of Albert the Great that she bred and owned.

And this was before he ever raced.

Valando couldn't help but flash back to some 17 years ago when her husband, Broadway producer Tommy Valando, was receiving similar messages from the people who broke and trained Fly So Free. That horse turned out to be the juvenile champion of 1990, and he ran fifth in the 1991 Kentucky Derby.

Valando, 82, honored her late husband by naming her latest star Nobiz Like Shobiz. On Saturday, Valando hopes Nobiz Like Shobiz continues to earn rave reviews when he runs in the 133rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Thus far, Nobiz Like Shobiz has lived up to the promise so many had him for before he made it to the track. Nobiz Like Shobiz has 4 wins from 6 starts, including victories in the Wood Memorial and Holy Bull Stakes this year and the Remsen last fall. His two losses have come by a combined 1 1/4 lengths, or 10 feet.

Valando, who bred her mare Nightstorm to Albert the Great, said she remembers getting a call from Bob Noble, the farm manager at Ocala Stud, where the colt was being trained to become a racehorse.

"They had told me, 'We have 80 colts and about the same number of fillies here, and everybody agrees they think your horse is the best,' '' Valando recalls Noble telling her.

Noble, whose farm also trained and broke 2006 champion juvenile Street Sense, confirmed that conversation in a recent interview.

"Owners and trainers would come to see their horses, and when he'd walk up on the track they'd say 'Who's that?' '' Noble said. "He was that kind of horse. He just was cut out to be a good one. He had a demeanor about him.

"Street Sense was an attractive colt, but when a group of horses came up, he didn't jump out at you,'' Noble added.

"We thought Nobiz like Shobiz was well named.''

Carl Nafzger, the trainer of Street Sense, was one of those who were impressed with Nobiz Like Shobiz when he visited Ocala Stud.

"Of all people, Carl Nafzger called me to say what a great horse I had,'' Valando recalled.

Finally, Valando received a call from her own trainer, Barclay Tagg, who upon first setting eyes on Nobiz Like Shobiz told her: "This is the most gorgeous horse I've ever seen. If he's not a Triple Crown candidate, they've never made one.''

Tagg has an idea what a Triple Crown candidate should look like. He won the first two legs of the 2003 Triple Crown with Funny Cide.

This is Valando's second stint with Tagg. After her husband died in 1995, Valando moved her horses from Scotty Schulhofer - the trainer of Fly So Free - to Tagg. The two had modest success in 1996, but won just one race in 1997 - that being a maiden race with Nightstorm - so Valando wanted to make another change.

On the advice of her friend Stuart Sobotnick, Valando moved her horses to Todd Pletcher, who was slightly more than a year into his own training career. Valando won 5 races from 28 starters with Pletcher over a three-year period, but also had one filly, Sweet and Lovely, suffer a fatal breakdown in the 1998 Coaching Club American Oaks.

In 2000, Valando moved her horses to Nafzger, and the two campaigned the graded-stakes-winning filly Take the Cake in 2002. But after a winless 2004, Valando decided to make another change and went back to Tagg.

"When I was with him before it was right after my husband passed away," Valando said. "I was pretty unhappy. Really, Barclay didn't do anything wrong, I just didn't feel I was getting anywhere when I left him the first time. I guess I've become a little more tolerant.''

She proved that almost immediately. One of the first horses she gave to Tagg in 2005 died from a heart attack after completing a workout.

"She took that quite well,'' Tagg said. "She is a wonderful lady to train for.''

Valando admits she was a racing novice when her husband decided to get into the game in the late 1980s. After owning a piece of a few horses with Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable, Tommy Valando decided to venture out on his own. The first horse he bought was Fly So Free.

Elizabeth Valando doesn't have fond memories of Fly So Free's Kentucky Derby.

"They brought the wrong girth to the paddock,'' Valando recalled. "We had a delay while they had to go back and get another one. By the time they got back he was pretty upset. That troubled me. It wasn't really pleasurable.''

Despite dealing with a case of bronchitis and an upset stomach the last week, Valando is hopeful of having a better Derby experience this time around.

"We're positive,'' Valando said about her Derby chances. "Anything can happen; you always hope for the best.''