04/25/2007 11:00PM

Optimism mixed with reality


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - As silent partners go, Al Eisman might as well spend most of his time in the next room. Sneaking a word in edgewise when the other guy is an endlessly entertaining quote machine like Bill Currin is about as hard as getting the ball from Kobe.

Currin also has the advantage of access. After all, he not only owns half interest in the horses, he trains them, putting him front and center with the media when he ranges far and wide with such runners as Memorette, Outta Here, and their current Kentucky Derby candidate, Stormello.

But just as every good comedy team has both a Martin and a Lewis, Eisman provides down-to-earth ballast to Currin's soaring enthusiasm. They have been at this long enough - more than 45 years and counting - so they have got their act down pat.

"I like to aggravate him," said Eisman Thursday from his San Diego office. "But you can't win. He's doing it for love, not for money, and Bill looks at horse racing through rose-colored glasses. I don't know if he always faces reality, but he always thinks things are going to go his way. I tell him I get my information from my barber and other people, so he can think whatever he wants. My information is better."

As Eisman tells it - and Currin will back it up - the two men met in 1960 when they were both selling swimming pools in the suddenly sprawling San Fernando Valley, just over the Hollywood Hills from Los Angeles. Currin went on to become a prominent homebuilder in the Palm Springs area and then Northern California, while Eisman founded Blue Haven Pools.

Of the two, Currin is the one who's half horse, dating back to childhood in his native North Carolina. Eisman played the ponies from time to time, which made him a willing audience in 1970 when Currin suggested they claim a few.

"It was at Del Mar, and I even remember their names," Eisman said. "War Flag, Vi Hi Run, and Sea Turtle. We spent $15,000 between us, and ran them back the next Saturday. Two of them won and the other one finished second. My first thought was, 'Gee, this is easy, like picking up diamonds on the beach. Where's it been all my life?' It was the worst thing that could have happened."

Today, the partners have a herd that numbers in the dozens. They actually run in Eisman's name along with Betty Currin, Bill's wife.

"With a stable that size you need a couple of barn-breakers, big winners, to offset the others," Eisman said. "I think we're at a point now where we're self-sufficient, as long as we don't go pay stupid money for big horses."

And, of course, the trainer works cheap.

"Oh, no," Eisman corrected. "He charges retail."

Eisman and Currin have spent a bit more in the last 10 years, shooting for horses fit to compete in bigger and better races. They made their Kentucky Derby debut in 2003 with Outta Here, who was last of 16 with a half-mile to run and closed well to be seventh, beaten about 6 1/2 lengths by Funny Cide.

"We weren't sure he belonged," Eisman said. "But he earned his way there, so we gave it a try, and he ran a credible race."

On Sunday, Currin and Eisman will kick off Derby Week at Hollywood Park when their 3-year-old Freesgood runs in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes, the highlight of Gold Rush Day for California-breds. A son of Free House, Freesgood won the California Cup Juvenile last fall but is winless in three starts since, including a distant fifth in the Delta Jackpot and a close second in the El Camino Real Derby.

"When he ran at Delta Downs, he bled," Currin said. "He bled at a 2 on a scale of 5. As a result of that, I trained him rather lightly while resting him up. Now, he had a beautiful work three days ago and I think he'll run well."

Stormello, who works at Hollywood on Sunday in preparation for his Kentucky trip, won the Hollywood Futurity and Norfolk Stakes last year. This season, he was narrowly beaten in the Fountain of Youth before finishing third in the Florida Derby, beaten both times by Scat Daddy. Stormello heads for Kentucky on Monday.

"I will depart on the same day as well," Currin said. "But on a different airline. For security reasons, I can't afford to travel with the horse. As it is, I'm looking for reasons not to go. It's easy to lose your balance, and I don't want to do that. I'm wrapped a little tight anyway.

"The question I have is the same one everybody has - which of us can get the mile and a quarter? - and we won't know until we run the Kentucky Derby," Currin added. "I guess that's what makes it so damned important. I do know I have a horse this year who has tactical speed. And if it should come up raining, I'll just tell the jock to get out there and go for it."

On this, the partners passionately agree.

"Believe me, we're not going for the party," Eisman said. "We're going this year because we think we have as good a chance as anybody."