05/30/2005 11:00PM

This one's for All the Boys

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The average mature male can hold his breath for a minute or so without any problem. For Jeff Mullins, who had already lost one horse on the Hollywood grass over the holiday weekend, it was a full 1:33.17 before he breathed a deep sigh of relief at the sight of Castledale both surviving and winning Monday's Shoemaker Mile.

Just 24 hours earlier, the Mullins outfit was shaken by the death of All the Boys, an 8-year-old gelding who had hauled the mail for four different trainers from coast to coast through a career of 33 starts. Since last February, All the Boys had called the Mullins barn home, winning two of three starts.

"The worst thing about it," Mullins said, "he'd become the stable pet."

Big mistake, getting attached to the old battlers, especially when they are owned by action guys like Robert Bone, one of the Mullins stable stalwarts, who had claimed All the Boys for $50,000.

On Sunday, going postward at 1 3/16 miles on the grass, All the Boys was running for a $62,500 tag in one of those optional claiming/allowance races. He was in the thick of the hunt, too, well into the far turn, when his right hind leg snapped above the ankle. Garrett Gomez did a good job pulling All the Boys to a stop without falling - the rider strained a back muscle in the process - while Mullins raced down from the stands and hopped on the back of a pickup heading for the top of the turf course stretch.

Strangest thing, though. All the Boys was no longer Mullins's business, and he knew it. The horse had been claimed - clients represented by trainer Gary Mandella won a bitter shake - but there was Mullins anyway, holding All the Boys and stroking his neck while the ambulance backed into place.

"It looked bad, but I thought they might still be able to do something for him," Mullins said.

Mandella met the ambulance on the backstretch, near the holding pen where the remains of euthanized Thoroughbreds await transport for a necropsy. When Mandella arrived, All the Boys was still on three feet, with blood oozing from the top of the rundown bandage wrapping his badly swollen right hind.

"There wasn't much question about what needed to be done," Mandella said. "There wasn't a surgery in the world that could have fixed him. It was just a mess, an awful shame."

In short order, an attending veterinarian administered an injection of Eutha-6, a knockout barbituate mix that is every bit as lethal as it sounds. In seconds, All the Boys was mercifully gone.

Had he lived, had the leg held and nothing gone wrong, All the Boys would have been going back to his native Maryland, to take up residence at Fair Hill Training Center with the horses of Graham Motion. Mandella was claiming All the Boys on behalf of the Bushwood Stable partnership, owners of Motion's 2004 Breeders' Cup Turf winner, Better Talk Now.

"They were looking to pick up a rabbit for the remainder of Better Talk Now's racing year," Mandella said. "They feel he's better off when there is a lot of pace in his races, because then he gets less rank.

"On form, this horse fit the bill," Mandella said, referring to All the Boys. "The plan was to claim him, then I'd keep him here for a week to see how he came out of the race. They were looking to run him with Better Talk Now in the United Nations on the Fourth of July weekend. Beyond that, there's Maryland-bred races he could have run in."

Mandella was in prompt contact with Bushwood partner Brent Johnson.

"If there was a surgery that could have been done, they were ready to do whatever it would have taken," Mandella said. "Unfortunately, there wasn't an option. And what beautiful old horse, too, with such a striking head. He just looked like a real class horse. Broke my heart, even though I didn't get to be around him long."

On Monday morning, Jeff Mullins walked the Hollywood turf course, concerned that something about the ground caused All the Boys to break down. Greg Knee, who owns Castledale in partnership with Frank Lyons, accompanied Mullins.

"I thought seriously about scratching, but I left it up to the owners whether or not to run," Mullins said.

Ridden by Rene Douglas, Castledale knifed through a tough Shoemaker field to beat Inglewood Handicap winner King of Happiness by a half-length. The bad feet and sore shins that have plagued Castledale in the past seem to be under control, which should allow Mullins and company the luxury of pointing toward any number of major middle-distance turf events as the rest of the season unfolds. Still, even in the flush of victory, the trainer couldn't help thinking about the day before.

"You know what's really hard?" Mullins said. "When they're hurt like that and they look you in the eye, like they don't really know what's going on and they're asking for your help."

This time, the only help was a fast way out and a merciful end, leaving behind another grim reminder that a racehorse is a warrior, and blood can be spilled. While the nation spent Monday honoring dead soldiers from battles past, in a small corner of the racing world at least, Memorial Day was for All the Boys.