04/12/2006 11:00PM

Past his prime, yet all he does is win

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Don't look for him in the pages of Sports Illustrated, nor will his name be making the evening news. But for those who enjoy the sight of a full-hearted Thoroughbred doing what he does best, search no farther than the corner of the Bob Hess barn occupied by Fly to the Wire.

In a deeply competitive world where two wins in succession triggers a celebration, Fly to the Wire has managed to win five straight races at Santa Anita - most recently on Wednesday - and eight of his last nine. In fact, he has finished either first or second in 20 of his 27 lifetime starts, a stat that puts him in rarified air.

Never mind the fact that Fly to the Wire has spent his career sliding up and down the class ladder. At one time or another, he could be found taking a maiden claimer, finishing second in Grade 2 stakes company, or all out to score for a $10,000 claiming price, with no one interested in taking him home. The point is, the animal knows how to win.

"What a lovely horse," said Hess, who was speaking from Oaklawn Park on Thursday morning, where he was scheduled to run Quiet Kim in Friday's Fantasy Stakes. "I can't say enough great things about him."

They do get under your skin, these old pros who rage against infirmities, injuries, and age. In the case of Hess, his acquisition of Fly to the Wire for a $20,000 tag last Dec. 3 - for owners Gabe Arrechaderra, Ronald Heller and David Orozco - was a roundabout scratching of a three-year-old itch.

Fly to the Wire, bred by Frank Stronach and originally sold as a 2-year-old for $40,000, was one of 34,708 Thoroughbred foals of 2000 dropped in the United States and registered with The Jockey Club. (So were Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Roses in May, Southern Image, and Funny Cide, just to put the generation in perspective.)

Fly to the Wire first came to Hess's attention in early 2002 when he won his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths for a $62,500 claiming price and was claimed by trainer Herbert Bacorn.

"I had owners on the lookout for good 3-year-olds, and I approached Bacorn to acquire the horse for some good money, like $300,000," Hess recalled. "They laughed at me and said they'd already turned down $400,000."

Over the next 14 months, Fly to the Wire proved a classy acquisition, winning twice in allowance company and placing in two stakes, including the Grade 2 Lazaro Barrera. Then he dropped off the radar screen in the spring of 2004 and did not resurface until August of 2005 at Del Mar for claiming prices of $20,000 and $25,000. Hess took notice.

"Obviously, something had happened to him," Hess said. "But Kent Desormeaux was on him, which sent mixed messages, thinking that Kent wouldn't ride him if he was too bad off."

Hess passed, and then watched as Fly to the Wire reeled off three straight wins.

"By then I knew he had a big old bowed tendon - the kind that looks like two bananas glued to the back of the leg," Hess said. "The day we finally claimed him he lost, and we looked like the unlucky winners of a three-way shake. He had strained the tendon and went on the vet's list."

Hess attributes several factors to Fly to the Wire's rebound, including a switch in racing surface from Hollywood Park to Santa Anita.

"I think he might have slipped around on that looser track at Hollywood, and the farther away he got from that the healthier he got," Hess said. "And I also think he's basically a stakes horse running against inferior competition, probably compensating for the tendon by adjusting his stride."

Therapeutically, Hess uses a combination of new-wave technology and the tried and true to accommodate Fly to the Wire's tendon.

"Ice - lots of ice, three times a day," Hess said.

"Then, after every race we've been using shock-wave therapy on that tendon," Hess went on, referring to the veterinary application of the same technology used to dissolve kidney stones.

"I never used it until we did it on him," Hess said, "but it seemed to help."

In California, the legal application of shock-wave therapy must be performed at a designated backstretch facility under the auspices of a state veterinarian. A horse must then wait 10 days before running.

Fly to the Wire - whether a poster boy for back class or new-wave therapies - has reached the end of his Santa Anita run with no place to go.

"I'm not sure what we'll do with him next," Hess said. "I won't run him at Hollywood Park, but I'd hate to back off too much, because I wouldn't want to train him hard to get him back to the races. I would think that the Claiming Crown would be a goal for him, but that's down the line."

The Hess stable has won 12 races at the meet. Or, more accurately, Fly to the Wire has won five races, while the rest of the 30-horse barn has won seven.

"No question about it," Hess said. "He's made the meet for us."