08/09/2005 12:00AM

Possibly Ohio's next phenom

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Acts Like a King won the Hoover Stakes by 8 1/2 lengths.

CINCINNATI - An old saw in Ohio is that if a horse is an Ohio-bred he should probably stay there, and with over $1.9 million in stakes purses set aside for statebreds at Ohio's three Thoroughbred tracks, there is plenty of economic incentive to do just that.

From time to time, however, there have been diamonds in the rough, Ohio-breds simply too good to keep home. Among the more noteworthy were Air Forbes Won and Harlan's Holiday, Grade 1 winners who went favored in the Kentucky Derby. Another was Kingpost, who won the Grade 2 Jim Beam Stakes before finishing second in the 1988 Belmont Stakes.

Acts Like a King has a ways to go before reaching such lofty heights, but there is a buzz around River Downs that he could be the next Ohio-bred to receive national recognition. Acts Like a King, who is unbeaten in two starts, is being pointed toward the meet's signature event, the $200,000 Cradle Stakes for 2-year-olds on Sept. 5, a race won last year by eventual Kentucky Derby favorite Bellamy Road.

The story behind Acts Like a King is truly a family affair. He is owned by Fred "Butch" Nemann, trained by Nemann's wife, Kris, and is ridden by Kris Nemann's son, Nathan Solomon. Acts Like a King was produced from a mating of Part the Waters and Kara's Rockin Role, stakes winners campaigned by Butch Nemann in the late 1990's.

Foaled at the Nemanns' Rocky Valley Farm in New Richmond, Ohio, Acts Like a King has stood out from the beginning.

"From the time he was born, he had the look in his eye like, 'I can do whatever I want to do,' " said Butch Nemann.

That attitude has stayed with Acts Like a King, perhaps because, even though he is only 2, he is a horse who already fills the eye. "In his maiden race, a competitor walked up to him and said to me, 'You've got something illegal in this race. They don't allow 4-year-olds in this race,' " Nemann said. "He's a big, strong colt. He's very smart, and he loves to train."

Acts Like a King also likes to run. In his debut July 4 at River, he circled horses late to finish second despite losing two hind shoes. Two weeks later, in the $40,000 Hoover Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs, Acts Like a King left little doubt who was the leading statebred 2-year-old, drawing off to win by 8 1/2 lengths in muddy going, earning a 79 Beyer Speed Figure.

"I've been in this business my whole life, and I haven't seen too much that can run with this colt that we have," said Nathan Solomon, who also rode Acts Like a King's sire and dam. "He could be the real deal, but you have a lot to overcome."

Indeed, anything can happen to a young racehorse. The Nemann family has been lucky with Acts Like a King, whose only setback was a spike in temperature two weeks ago. Training time was lost from that setback, though, which may preclude Acts Like a King from starting in the Cradle Prep, a $25,000 overnight allowance here Saturday. Nemann said that if they skip the prep, Acts Like a King will train up to the Cradle.

A win or strong showing by Acts Like a King in the 1 1/16-mile Cradle will lead to a start in the Best of Ohio Juvenile at Beulah Park, followed by a trip to Gulfstream Park for the Grade 3 Holy Bull. "If we treat him right, I think he has a chance to go better than [statebred races]," Nemann said.

Benefit held for paralyzed jockey

River Downs will host a fund-raiser and racing memorabilia auction on Sunday, Sept. 4, to benefit jockey Gary Birzer, who was paralyzed in a spill last year at Mountaineer Park.

Among the items to be auctioned is a saddlecloth worn by Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo, which is being donated by Churchill Downs. The saddlecloth will be autographed by Giacomo's connections: owners Jerome and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs, and jockey Mike Smith.

Autographed Kentucky Derby prints and programs are also expected to be on the auction list. Individuals wishing to donate funds or racing memorabilia for the auction should contact River Downs publicity director John Engelhardt at (513) 354-8243.

Buckeye Native field shapes up

Sunday's feature at River Downs is the $40,000 Buckeye Native for older Ohio-breds at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Possible starters for the Buckeye Native, which is restricted to horses both sired and bred in Ohio, are Catch My Cat, winner of the Mike Rowland Memorial in May; Count on My Word, a stakes winner at Beulah last fall; Hero Act, third in the Horizon; and The Potters Hand, a recent turf allowance winner here.