07/10/2001 11:00PM

Novice owner spots rough diamond in Junior Deputy

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - On Feb. 17, Bob Ise was watching a simulcast of the fifth race at Gulfstream Park from Sam Houston Race Park. The race was for 3-year-old $62,500 maiden claimers. The seventh-place finisher, Junior Deputy, caught his eye, for the amount of trouble he encountered.

Ise, a fledgling owner, called trainer David Fawkes in Florida, who had trained one of Ise's first horses. Ise set a Horse Watch e-mail alert on Junior Deputy and told Fawkes to look for the horse's return.

Junior Deputy returned two weeks later in a maiden claiming race at Gulfstream. The opportunity was there: Ise and Nicki Proscia contacted Fawkes, and they claimed the horse for $45,000. Since Feb. 28, Junior Deputy, who is set to run in Sunday's $100,000 Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park, has paid amazing dividends for his connections.

When Junior Deputy returned to Fawkes's barn, the trainer made some changes with the colt. He had bled in the race from which he was claimed, so he was given Lasix in his next race. Junior Deputy had worn blinkers in his second start, but Fawkes equipped him with blinkers that were opened up a little more. In his next start, a month later at Hialeah, Junior Deputy won a maiden special weight by 10 3/4 lengths.

"He stumbled behind horses in his first race," Fawkes said. "We figured that if something went wrong with him, he wouldn't have been running back two weeks later. We found out that he was a little head shy and got spooked in his first race."

After his maiden victory, Junior Deputy won an allowance at Keeneland, earning a 106 Beyer Speed Figure, and then captured his first stakes in the $60,000 Prairie Mile at Prairie Meadows in Iowa with a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. In both wins, Junior Deputy benefited greatly from the services of jockey Jerry Bailey. Bailey rode Junior Deputy in his allowance win and was in town for Riding Cup IV at Prairie Meadows.

"When Jerry Bailey got off him after the Keeneland win and said 'nice claim,' " Fawkes said, "we knew he did something right."

In his most recent start, the Leonard Richards at Delaware on June 17, not everything went as planned for Junior Deputy. According to Fawkes, the instructions to rider Anthony Black were to break second or third. However, Junior Deputy broke for the lead and raced on a dead rail over a deep track. The previous day's races had been canceled due to severe thunderstorms, and all of the rain had washed down to the rail. Junior Deputy, sent off at 5-2, tired on the lead and finished last in a five-horse field.

"He ran some huge figures back to back," Fawkes said. "He maybe bounced a little in the race."

Fawkes said he has no doubt that Junior Deputy will run well Sunday and continue to improve with every start. He fired a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.80 on July 8, in which Fawkes said the exercise rider never moved on him. Continued success, including a win in the Long Branch, could mean a start in the Grade 1 Haskell.

"He has to run a super race to go in the Haskell," Fawkes said.

The success of Junior Deputy has been rewarding for his owners, Ise, 66, and Proscia, 58. Both are relatively new in the business and have owned horses for about a year. Both are retired: Ise was formerly the vice president of marketing at ARCO, and Proscia was an official in the New York State meat cutters union. Through Fawkes, who is stabled here and at Calder, the two met each other and teamed up for their claimer turned stakes winner.

"When we went into this, we never expected to have a horse running in a $100,000 stakes," Ise said. "We were hoping to have a horse that ran well in allowance races. We never expected, with one of our first horses, to be running against Triple Crown horses."

The 1 1/16-mile Long Branch, a prep for the Grade 1 Haskell on Aug. 5, is also likely to draw Triple Crown participant Thunder Blitz as well as Deputy Max, Game Effort, Just Whimiscal, Saratoga Games, and This Fleet Is Due.