10/22/2008 12:00AM

One more big run for Paasch, Cono


ARCADIA, Calif. - By next spring, if all goes as planned, trainer Christopher Paasch and his primary owner, Charlie Cono, will be out of the racing business. By dusk Friday, if all goes as expected, they will have assured themselves of exiting with an indelible memory.

Paasch and Cono are the connections of Stardom Bound, a magnificent stretch-running gray daughter of Tapit who is clearly the horse to beat in Friday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. Already a multiple Grade 1 winner, Stardom Bound, with a victory, can clinch an Eclipse Award as the 2-year-old filly champion. How much is that worth? One will have to wait until Nov. 2, when Stardom Bound passes through the sales ring at the Fasig-Tipton select sale of racing stock to find out.

At age 84, and still an active real estate executive who is in the process of building a large hospital/campus for autistic children and their families in San Diego County, Cono has decided to disperse his racing stable of about 18 racehorses. Cono, who suffers from the disease lupus, has owned horses since 2000.

"It's not a game anymore, it's a business," said Cono, who has donated millions of dollars to charities dealing with disadvantaged and physically deformed children. "It's a very expensive business to be in. I've been spending $3 million to $3.5 million a year. It's a not a business where you make a lot of money."

Cono's decision to get out of the game prompted Paasch to do the same. Paasch, 52, suffers from a rare form of leukemia. In 1987, Paasch was told by doctors on several occasions that he would not live this long. Paasch has half of a working lung.

"I've been through every kind of chemo, and radiation, and nuclear medicine, was on a national transplant list," said Paasch, who says he is now in remission. "I took myself off [the list]. After watching a lot of people that had had lung transplants - about 30 percent of them die and some of the other horrors that go along with that - I said I'll just live with what I have."

And Paasch has lived an interesting life. Growing up the son of a trainer in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Paasch was involved with horses at a young age. When his father died, Paasch got out of the sport. He did some modeling and acting, working as a bartender on the soap opera "Rituals." He said he initially moved to California to be a movie star.

"After starving for three months, I went and got a job," Paasch said.

Paasch worked for a carpet company and eventually opened his own carpet store, which burned down. While embroiled in a lawsuit with an insurance company, Paasch started claiming horses in 1985.

Two years later, Paasch was diagnosed with leukemia. He twice checked into New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for months at a time "where they told me I wouldn't leave," he said.

Paasch did leave, and went into trading stocks. He said he was doing so well an executive from Dean Witter convinced him to get a broker's license. When his illness got bad again, he stopped trading.

"I went from having more money than I could spend in a day to not being able to pay my rent a year later due to all the bills from the cancer treatments," Paasch said. "I didn't have any insurance anymore."

In 1998, Paasch was living in Cliffside Park, N.J., undergoing treatments during the week and lying on his couch on weekends. On Belmont Stakes Day that year, Paasch's brother Greg took him on an unscheduled trip to Belmont Park. Greg Paasch took his brother to the racing office, where paperwork to get Chris's trainer's license had been filled out, simply awaiting his signature. Reluctant at first, Paasch eventually signed it.

Paasch returned to California and started training horses for Rod and Lorraine Rodriguez. Through a friend, Paasch was introduced to Cono, who wanted to get into the Thoroughbred game after being involved with Standardbreds. In 2001, Paasch purchased the horse Ponche de Leona, who in her first start for him and Cono won the $100,750 Anoakia Stakes at Santa Anita.

Over the years, Paasch and Cono campaigned stakes winners Crowned Dancer, Conveyor's Angel, Principle Secret, and She's Included. Principle Secret and She's Included raced in the 2006 Breeders' Cup.

At the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. auction of 2-year-olds in March, Paasch bought Stardom Bound for $375,000. He was willing to pay up to $600,000 for her. The horse had a splint issue that may have scared off prospective buyers, Paasch said.

Stardom Bound debuted at Del Mar on July 20, rallying well off the pace to fall a nose short. Paasch felt the photo showed a dead heat and went to the stewards about it. "They laughed at me," Paasch said.

After finishing another late-running second in a maiden race, Stardom Bound rallied from last to win the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante, then did it again in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf at Santa Anita. In the Oak Leaf, Stardom Bound rallied eight wide and won under a hand ride from Mike Smith.

"This is the most fantastic horse I've ever had," Cono said. "I could go out on top if I win this. I got a pretty good shot."

Paasch, who hopes to stay in the game as a bloodstock agent, would like nothing better than to send Cono out a winner.

"Seeing him stand in that box when she won the Oak Leaf, his eyes full of tears, that probably meant more to me than a lot of it," Paasch said. "I don't need all the hoopla, all the accolades, I really don't. To see that guy stand in that box on Friday afternoon and walk down to the winner's circle with him would be really, really cool."