01/26/2004 1:00AM

Owners' compassion saves claimer's life

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ALBANY, Calif. - Owners Jeff Obstfeld, Mike Connors, and Jack Owens thought enough of Night Owl Nick to claim the 3-year-old colt for $12,500 from his debut at Golden Gate Fields on Nov. 21.

He ran just twice for them, finishing seventh in a straight maiden race and then third on Jan. 18 in a $16,000 claimer. Night Owl Nick pulled up with a condylar fracture after the race, and the owners agreed to pursue surgery instead of having Night Owl Nick put down.

"They went ahead and did the surgery, paid money to save him when most people would want to wash their hands of the deal," trainer Chuck Peery said. "We ask these horses for so much, it warms my heart to have a group willing to give back."

Dr. Kim Kuhlmann did the surgery on Jan. 19 in Golden Gate Fields' new equine hospital and used four screws to stabilize the leg.

"It was nice that they felt enough compassion to do the right thing," Kuhlmann said.

It was also fortunate that there is finally an equine hospital on the Golden Gate grounds, because the colt may not have survived a one-hour van ride to the University of California-Davis for the surgery.

"We were able to save his life because there was a hospital here," Peery said.

Night Owl Nick is recovering in Peery's barn and later will be moved to a ranch owned by Lisa Robinson. He will be turned into a pleasure horse.

Jim Ghidella, northern director of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and one of the prime movers behind the hospital, was pleased that a potentially tragic accident could have a happy outcome.

"The directors of the hospital are gratified we were able to save the life of this horse," said Ghidella, who is on the hospital's board.

Fresquez back in business

Trainer Jim Fresquez grew up in Hollywood, and was well acquainted with horses. So when the actor Michael Landon decided he wanted to race horses and asked Fresquez to become his personal horse trainer in the early 1970's, Fresquez went and got his license.

Fresquez had some success in the 1970's and 1980's but has spent more time running the Rustridge Ranch and Winery in the Napa Valley for the past decade. He started only one horse in 2003, one in 2000, and three in 1999. Up until two weeks ago, he had only 35 starts since 1994.

But Fresquez debuted a winner when Stacy's Ridge won a straight maiden race on Jan. 14.

"We got involved with grapes and the winery, but now we're breeding again," he said.

He is not surprised that Stacy's Ridge is a winner but was "pleasantly surprised" that he got the win in his debut.

"All his brothers are winners," Fresquez said. "We knew he would win. We felt confident, but who knew when he'd win?"

Fresquez, who has four horses stabled at Golden Gate Fields, said he and his wife, Susan, who bred Stacy's Ridge, call their involvement in racing "serious fun."

Big field possible for Brown Bess

The Grade 3, $100,000 Brown Bess Handicap at 1 1/16 miles on turf on Saturday drew 32 nominations, and the race for older fillies and mares could have a full field.

Connections for A B Noodle, Hippogator, Hooked on Niners, Ilha Grande, Just Bill Me, and Red Rioja have all indicated they will run, and several more have indicated they are probable.