11/16/2007 12:00AM

Real Quiet earned his stakes

EmailINGLEWOOD, Calif. - The Real Quiet Stakes is still just a baby and doesn't figure to get much older, given the uncertainty of Hollywood Park's survival in a cold, cruel real estate world. Even so, as a low-key indicator of prospective talent, the 1 1/16-mile event already has made an impact with such participants as Bob and John, Liquidity, and Unusual Suspect, and Sunday's third running promises good things as well.

This is fitting, since it was about the same time of year, back in 1997, that the real Real Quiet was beginning to emerge as a young colt of genuine talent for owner Mike Pegram and trainer Bob Baffert.

Real Quiet, a son of Quiet American, snagged his maiden win in his seventh try on Oct. 18 at Santa Anita Park, then finished a respectable third to the Overbrook Farm looker Cape Town in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 29 at Churchill Downs. Two weeks later, Baffert whirled Real Quiet right back in the Hollywood Futurity, as part of an entry with the stable's well-regarded Johnbill. At the end, though, it was Real Quiet by a length over Artax, a colt who went on to a pretty good career of his own.

At that point, Real Quiet had pretty much earned the right to have a $100,000 stakes race named in his honor at site of his finest performance. He'd already more than paid for his paltry $17,000 purchase price, which meant anything else he managed to earn the rest of his career would be pure gravy. No one, of course, would have dared to predict that barely six months after his Futurity victory, Real Quiet would nail down a place in racing history as the colt who lost the Triple Crown by a bob of Victory Gallop's nose at the end of the 1998 Belmont Stakes.

It still hurts to watch, especially if you are Pegram, Baffert, jockey Kent Desormeaux, or any member of Real Quiet's sprawling fan club. Nicknamed "The Fish" by Baffert because of a narrow frame that all but disappeared when viewed head on, Real Quiet was the ultimate ugly duckling who blossomed into a true swan, and nearly stood the game on its ear.

As Baffert's chief assistant at the time, Eoin Harty traveled far and wide with Real Quiet. And we're not just talking Triple Crown towns. In August 1997, Harty and the colt showed up at Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico for the half-million dollar Indian Nations Futurity. Real Quiet finished third - what do you want . . . he was a maiden - and both horse and handler came away with valuable experience.

"It certainly wasn't Saratoga or Santa Anita," said Harty, an Irishman who has trained such serious runners as Street Cry, Tempera, and Dubai Escapade under his own banner. "Between races they had various tribes doing all kinds of exotic dances, with chanting, feathers waving, hoops twirling. We came back from that race, stretched him out, added blinkers and Desormeaux, and the rest was history."

Compared to New Mexico, the hoopla of the Triple Crown was downright dull for Real Quiet. Using his leggy, high-speed gallop and deep well of stamina, he beat Victory Gallop by a half-length in the Kentucky Derby and by more than two lengths in the Preakness before dropping the Belmont heartbreaker in the final stride. To this day, Desormeaux would love to try that one again.

But never mind. Real Quiet held no grudges. After a break, he came back at 4 to win the Pimlico Special and the Hollywood Gold Cup. He was, in fact, a colt who never sweated the small stuff. His six lifetime victories included that maiden score and five Grade 1 trophies.

"The whole ride with Real Quiet was the highlight of my time with Bob," Harty said. "Mike's crew from Indiana were a great bunch of guys. Just in it for the fun of the game."

As a stallion, owned by a syndicate, Real Quiet has made steady headlines the past two years as the sire of the Grade 1-winning fillies Pussycat Doll and Wonder Lady Anne L., and now a likely champion in Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute. This he has accomplished despite a restless history that has included two farms in Kentucky, two in Pennsylvania, and a couple of lawsuits. In April 2006, when Real Quiet was standing at Regal Heir Farm in Pennsylvania, farm owners Bradley Jones and Dennis Madonna were killed when their helicopter crashed on the property.

As long as it's around, Harty would like nothing better than to win the Real Quiet Stakes, and he might get the job done Sunday with the Tiznow colt Colonel John, bred and owned by WinStar Farm. Colonel John has run twice, finishing second at Del Mar and then winning at Santa Anita during the Oak Tree meet in a performance that has his rider, Corey Nakatani, calling the colt, "my Derby horse."

"A lot of 2-year-olds this time of year go through various mental stages, just like kids," Harty said, thinking of Colonel John. "In regards to natural ability, and what he shows in the morning, he's very talented. As good a colt as Street Cry. I'd like to say we've got another Real Quiet, but still, you've got to earn it."