09/27/2002 12:00AM

Roxelana proves better racehorse than broodmare

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - If fate had not intervened, Roxelana never would have been on the racetrack Wednesday night at Turfway Park.

But life took a peculiar twist for Roxelana, and now the 5-year-old mare is back from retirement, ready to resume the standout career that two years ago made her one of the better fillies of her generation.

Roxelana, bred and owned by Bill Landes III and trained by Blackie Huffman, won the feature race Wednesday at the Florence, Ky., track, leading all the way to prevail by 2 3/4 lengths. The race marked her first start since February 2001, when Landes decided to retire her.

"In my book, I'd labeled her a broodmare," Landes said last week from Hermitage Farm, where he is the longtime general manager.

But Roxelana, by Boundary, had a very difficult time in her first experience with motherhood. She suffered from dystocia, or an impaired delivery, when her foal, a Carson City colt, failed to survive a premature birthing process in January. Even though veterinarians attempted to save the colt via Caesarean section, the colt still died, and Roxelana also faced a lengthy recovery time from the ordeal.

"This spring, my wife [Sally] and daughter [Laura] were watching her running around the field, and they suggested that maybe sending her back to the racetrack would help her with her recuperation," said Landes. "They talked about how she always enjoyed racing and how that might really enhance her outlook."

Roxelana arrived at Huffman's Churchill Downs barn in late April. Making her first start back Wednesday in a $34,000 allowance, she went straight to the front to win ridden out, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.62 over a fast Turfway surface.

"I told Blackie that if he ever thought she wasn't going to make it back the right way, if anything went the least bit wrong, for him to call me and send her back here," said Landes. "I never got that call."

Roxelana, who won the first four starts of her career by a combined 29 lengths before being narrowly defeated as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont in June 2000, may run next in an allowance race or the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, said Landes.

Ultimately, Roxelana probably will be bred again, said Landes.

"Her body just wasn't ready for her to be a mother," said Landes. "She has a narrow pelvis, but it's not anything major enough to prevent us from trying again. I might look to breeding her next spring. I'm in no hurry to decide anything."

Gorder takes on new challenge

Kellyn Gorder has paid his dues. Now he is primed to take the next step in a career that has wound its way from stablehand to trainer of a sizable public stable.

Gorder, 35, who began breaking horses in his early teens, has resigned as manager of 505 Farms, formerly owned by the late Marshall Naify. The Lexington farm is undergoing a major transition after being divided into tracts and sold at auction earlier this month.

At 505, Gorder had been busy with "maybe 250 horses coming through the doors in a year's time." But next week, he will move a public stable to Keeneland, where he has been assigned 15 stalls, while he also takes on side work with young horses and leg-ups at nearby Fares Farm.

Gorder, a one-time apprentice rider who earned a bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Wisconsin in 1990, worked for Bernie Flint, Harris Farms, and Jack Van Berg before moving to 505 in 1994. He assumed the head job at 505 about two years ago with the departure of Michelle Graves.

In July, Gorder won the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park with Grammarian, the first horse he ever saddled as a licensed trainer. Grammarian won his career debut last September at Kentucky Downs, returning $113.40 to win.

Primarily because of Grammarian, who may run next in the Shadwell Mile next Sunday at Keeneland, Gorder is starting to win recognition on the Kentucky circuit. He hopes to parlay that initial success into something bigger.

"I was bitten by the horse bug when I was 2 or 3, growing up in Minnesota," he said. "It's what I've always loved."

I'm Howlin pays bills without winning

At first glance, the past performances of a 5-year-old gray horse named I'm Howlin are decidedly uninspiring.

But a closer look reveals what soon may be a racing rarity: I'm Howlin has earned nearly $100,000, even though he has won just one race.

In the sixth race Thursday night at Turfway, I'm Howlin finished third, earning $1,370 for co-owner Sam Dorsey, who trains the horse at the Trackside training facility in Louisville. That brought I'm Howlin's record to 56 starts, one win, seven seconds, 11 thirds, and earnings of $97,021.

Dorsey has been spotting I'm Howlin mostly in high-claiming conditioned company, where the horse is paying his way - even without benefit of having his picture taken.

Fall meet winding down

With five programs remaining in the 22-day Turfway meet, apprentice rider John McKee is on the verge of his second straight riding title. Through Thursday night, McKee, who was leading rider at the River Downs summer meet, had ridden 20 winners, three more than Dean Butler and four more than Jon Court.

Among trainers, Bernie Flint appears headed to his fifth straight Turfway title. Flint, who sent out Ultimate Warrior to a handy victory in the $34,000 allowance feature Thursday night, had won eight races, three more than Bill Connelly.

Turfway ends Thursday night, after which Keeneland begins its 17-day fall meet.

* Turfway's semi-annual $15,000 Handicapping Blowout will be held Sunday. The top prize is $10,000 and a berth in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in January. Entry fee is $100. For more information, call (859) 647-4700.