06/18/2009 11:00PM

Partners enjoy run of good fortune

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Rocco D'Alimonte and Frank Annecchini have shared a long and productive history as business associates, friends, horseplayers, and horse owners.

On Sunday, D'Alimonte and Annecchini will be looking to add the most exciting chapter of all to their evolving story as the owners of Mr. Foricos Two U, who is in with a fighting chance as he makes his stakes debut in the 150th running of the $1 million Queen's Plate.

"For me, having a horse in the Queen's Plate for the first time is like having 50 years removed from my life," said the 59-year-old D'Alimonte, who was born it Italy but emigrated to Canada with his family at an early age. "I feel like I'm 9 years old, and I just got a horse for a present."

Annecchini, 52, who also was born in Italy and has been in Canada since his infancy, is less fanciful but equally enthusiastic as he contemplates his first Queen's Plate venture.

"It's a thrill," said Annecchini. "It's fabulous."

D'Alimonte and Annecchini were both in the audio-visual electronics business when they first met more than 20 years ago, and both maintain that connection as operators of separate major retail chains.

"When I was in the wholesale electronics business, I was a national sales manager and Frank was one of my customers," said D'Alimonte. "We worked very closely together, and got to know each other and become friends."

Prior to meeting D'Alimonte, Annecchini had had a fling as a horse owner.

"When I was about 26 I bought two horses at Woodbine, cheap claimers, and won a few races," said Annecchini. "I'd always had an itch to get back into it. Twelve years ago, Rocco and I got together some money, and started to buy some horses."

D'Alimonte already was familiar with the racetrack as Annecchini had introduced him to the challenges of handicapping, an art which he still takes very seriously and thoroughly enjoys.

Their first venture as owners came in 1996, when they claimed Pin Tail Pass for $32,000.

Although he was not exactly a resounding success, Pin Tail Pass did give the partners their first win, and they liked the gelding enough to reclaim him for $12,500 after losing him for $16,000 in 1998.

Pin Tail Pass also left the pair on a high note, after being claimed from them for $12,500 from a winning effort in the fall of 2000.

Through the years, their stake has grown.

"We used to have 30 horses, including breeding stock," said D'Alimonte. "Now we've gone to a smaller, quality group. We have 21 horses, including three mares."

One of those mares is Georgies Word, who was claimed for $25,000 and has produced Shot Gun Ela, a stakes winner for D'Alimonte and Annecchini who was retired last year and now is a member of their broodmare band.

In the meantime, the partners had gone through a number of trainers and had enjoyed their best success with Ross Armata, who trained Shot Gun Ela and still has a couple of their horses.

D'Alimonte, however, credits their current association with Catherine Day Phillips as the turning point in their fortunes.

"Two years ago, Catherine agreed to start training for us," said D'Alimonte. "Once that happened, I told Frank that it was only a matter of time before we were going to get to the Queen's Plate, and maybe even win it one year."

Purchasing two yearlings each year in Kentucky and another two in Ontario, Day Phillips has put together a solid group for D'Alimonte and Annecchini.

Their current sales graduates from Kentucky include Altona Road, a 4-year-old gelding who was purchased for $25,000 in Kentucky and has finished in the money in 4 of 6 starts, including a third in a good maiden race here Friday.

True Jean, a 4-year-old filly who was a $25,000 acquisition and has won four races and more than $190,000; and Fashion Jenny, a 4-year-old filly who was a $70,000 buy and has won two races.

Canadian-bred acquisitions from the local yearling sale include Victory Pass, a 4-year-old gelding who was a $13,000 yearling and finished second in three of his four starts last year; and Selembao, an Ontario-sired 3-year-old filly who was a $35,000 purchase and recently won her maiden in just her second start.

And then there are the 2-year-olds, with the most advanced being Vicar Pass, a $55,000 buy at the local yearling sale, and Major Moves, a $45,000 Keeneland yearling.

But the horse of the hour, Mr. Foricos Two U, was not a sales purchase but is a homebred out of Song Spring, who was claimed by D'Alimonte and Annecchini for $5,000 in 1996.

And that would make a Queen's Plate victory all the sweeter.

El Brujo's owner dies at 82

Jim Begg had known the joys of owning a Queen's Plate winner, but sadly did not live to see El Brujo contest this year's running for his family's Windways Farm.

Begg died Wednesday at age 82 following a brief illness.

Windways, the family racing and breeding operation, has been run in recent years by Jim Begg's son, Jeff Begg, and Jeff's wife, Annabel.

Jim Begg and his wife, Florence, had been active Windways participants when the group raced their homebred Victor Cooley, winner of the 1996 Queen's Plate.

Windways, under the stewardship of the younger Beggs, also bred Wild Desert, the 2005 Queen's Plate winner.

A celebration of Jim Begg's life will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Terrace Room of the Timberlane Athletic Club, 155 Vandorf Road, Aurora.

Plate saddlecloths up for auction

In support of LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society, Woodbine Entertainment Group will donate all of the saddlecloths being worn by the 13 Queen's Plate starters.

In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Queen's Plate, all starters will wear customized saddlecloths that will be autographed by the their jockeys following the race and auctioned on eBay.

There will be minimum bids of $2,500 for the winner's saddlecloth, $1,000 for the second-place finisher, $500 for the third-place horse, and $250 for each of the others.

All proceeds will go directly to LongRun. Last year, a similar auction raised $7,500.