08/09/2004 12:00AM

Popular champ Black Ruby may hang 'em up

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SAN MATEO, Calif. - Although she has been without a victory on the fair circuit this year, Black Ruby, the champion racing mule, has been perhaps the circuit's biggest attraction.

But now a lingering injury is threatening to end her career.

A 12-year-old, Black Ruby was not even entered in Sunday's Santa Rosa Mule Championship, which was won by Sarah Nelson, with Taz second and Smoking Joe third after a poor start.

Black Ruby cut a front hoof early this year, and the injury has been slow to heal. Sore hocks in her hind legs have compounded the problem, as she has compensated for the sore foot.

"I'd hate to retire her because of something we're trying to correct," said owner Sonny McPherson.

McPherson said he and his wife, Mary, have tried to keep Black Ruby running partly because of her popularity with fans and to pay back other owners who filled races when Black Ruby was virtually unbeatable.

Black Ruby appeared to respond well to injections in her hocks and actually looked good in a workout Saturday. But after being bathed following the workout, she went lame when cooling out on a hot walker.

McPherson said Black Ruby would be examined by vets at UC Davis but added, "We might have to give her the rest of the year off."

Three riders out with suspensions

Chad Schvaneveldt, Russell Baze, and Macario Rodriquez will miss the opening of the Bay Meadows Fair while serving suspensions.

Schvaneveldt began a three-day suspension Monday after being disqualified when Danziana veered into the stretch, bothering Better Knot, and was placed last in Thursday's ninth race.

Baze and Rodriquez will miss the first three days of the Bay Meadows Fair.

Baze was suspended for his ride aboard La Fino Vino in Friday's sixth race. La Fino Vino drifted in slightly in the lane, impeding Wild Cheta, and was disqualified from first to third.

Rodriquez was suspended for his ride aboard First Payboy, who veered in at the start of a Quarter Horse race Friday.

The Baze decision was a difficult one. Wild Cheta had room to make a move along the rail but didn't seem to want to go through when Baze edged over slightly.

Wild Cheta's rider, Joe Castro, sensing his filly wasn't comfortable inside, was trying to take Wild Cheta back a bit to angle out, but when Baze made things tighter, Castro had to make an abrupt move. The two nearly clipped heels and Wild Cheta almost lost Castro. Because he was alert to the situation, Castro managed to stay aboard and avoided what could have been a catastrophic spill near the eighth pole.

"You just try to be a good passenger and sit still," he said. "Horses don't want to fall any more than you do. I was lucky she regained her balance."

Although each individual fair runs only two weeks, the fairs as a whole are considered one meet. It was Baze's second suspension during the fair season, which usually means a five-day suspension at the main meets, but he was given only three days again.

Horsemen raise funds at seminar

Steward Pam Berg, the founder of the non-profit Glen Ellen Vocational Academy, was a guest Friday at Santa Rosa's daily handicapping seminar. Earlier in the week in New York, Berg received the Dogwood Dominion Award.

Track announcer Vic Stauffer auctioned off two autographed Baze photos for $1,000 and trips to Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields for $800. Another $400 was collected in individual contributions during the seminar.

Berg said the $2,200 was the most ever raised for GEVA in a single day at any racetrack.

Stauffer, who defeated Baze's agent, Ray Harris, in a charity handicapping battle the first week of the seminar, tried to add another $100 to the total Saturday in his rematch with Harris. Stauffer lost, though, and contributed $100 to Castro Valley Outreach, a charity Harris founded in his hometown.

Ruling helps Liebau stay perfect

Liebau, considered the best young Appaloosa in the country, needed help from the stewards to improve his record to 4 for 4 in the $15,625 California Appaloosa Derby on Saturday.

Liebau ($2.20) was beaten a half-length by Mr Justin With a J in the five-furlong race, but the winner was taken down and placed fourth behind Splashy Boy Troy after bearing out in the lane and shutting off his rival.

All Virtue has record run

All Virtue set the only track record at the 2004 Sonoma County Fair meet with a 1:11.79 clocking in a 5 1/2-furlong Arabian allowance race. The clocking beat the previous record of 1:12.60 set First Priora Tee on Aug. 7, 2000.