03/27/2009 11:00PM

Rockhurst still reliable as 10-year-old


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Rockhurst, a 10-year-old who is riding a four-race win streak, will be looking for his 15th win if trainer Mike Dini can find a race for him here at Tampa Bay Downs.

Dini, who claimed Rockhurst for $10,000 back in 2003 and has seen the turf sprint specialist knock out more than $300,000 since moving to his barn, sent Rockhurst to Mike Stidham's barn at Fair Grounds this winter because there were races there where he could be competitive.

And compete he has. Rockhurst rallied late to win a 5 1/2-furlong turf sprint on March 21 that marked his fourth straight win, all at Fair Grounds. While racing in the $17,500 claiming range, Rockhurst continues to post Beyer Speed Figures in the mid-80s. Although late-running types are usually at a disadvantage in turf sprints, Rockhurst's closing kick seems to work just fine. He usually stalks the leaders into the stretch, then roars past in the final furlong. The horse has even developed a bit of a cult hero status among the commentators of one racing network who call him "Rocky" and sing his praises.

While he has shown a fondness for the Fair Grounds course Rockhurst doesn't need a certain surface to be successful. Last season, at age 9, Rockhurst raced at six different tracks from Arlington Park to Saratoga while winning 3 of 11 starts and finishing second on two other occasions.

"If he were human, he'd have enough frequent flyer miles to take a long vacation," Dini joked the other day. "It's so very hard to find turf sprints that fit him, so we have to keep an eye on the condition books all over the place. Fortunately he loves to ship, it takes very little out of him, and he fires every time they spring the latch."

Dini said Rockhurst's career looked to be over in 2007 when he tore a ligament in his lower leg, but the trainer listened to some friends and tried treating Rockhurst in a hyperbaric chamber.

"It was amazing," Dini said. "The ligament tear healed perfectly and he came back like a new horse. He got a second chance to run and he just loves it. He's such a cool guy, when he gets his Lasix shot and knows he's going to run he dances around he stall and gets himself ready."

And how much longer will Rockhurst compete?

"As long as he's happy and he's not hurting we're going to let him run," Dini said. "If he ever loses that competitive spirit or it's obvious he can't compete anymore we'll do the right thing with him. He's like a member of the family."

* Jockey Clint Magara, who sustained three broken ribs, a bruised spleen, and a collapsed lung in a training accident here recently, has been released from St. Joseph's Hospital after an 11-day stay. It will be several weeks before he can start getting on horses full time.

* Trainer Walter Bernhart, a regular at Tampa Bay Downs for a number of years, died this week at age 65. Bernhart had been training since 1991 and won 29 of 764 races.