01/11/2005 1:00AM

Sad day for 'Devoted' trainer

Bill Strauss
Commentator, winning the Perryville at Keeneland, came out of Saturday's Grade 3 Hal's Hope with a shin fracture that is still being examined.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - It was mostly business as usual on the Gulfstream Park backstretch on Monday morning. The exception was the south side of Barn 1, where stall 57 sat empty for the first time this winter.

Stall 57 belonged to Hopelessly Devoted, a multiple stakes-winning 4-year-old filly who collapsed and died shortly after the completion of Sunday's Marshua's River Stakes. An autopsy revealed the official cause of death to be cardiac arrest caused by heat exhaustion.

Hopelessly Devoted was owned by the Liberty Stable and trained by Sandra Slivka. She and her husband, former rider Omar Londono, were still visibly shaken and emotionally drained while attending to chores as best they could at their barn on Monday.

"We usually get to work at 4:30, but today we didn't come in until after 7," Slivka said. "It's just been so tough. She was not only a very good horse, but she was like a member of the family. I rubbed her myself, and Omar was the only rider to get on her in the morning. I still can't believe this happened."

Hopelessly Devoted came into the Marshua's River having won her last three starts, including the Calder Oaks in her turf debut and the Elmer Heubeck Distaff Handicap when she returned to the main track for the last start of her 3-year-old campaign on Nov. 13.

"She went into the race Sunday a picture of health," Slivka said.

"I thought I did the right thing by giving her a little break after she won her last start. This was going to be a prep for the Sunshine Millions.

"She had never been bothered by the heat before," she said. "She worked five furlongs in 59 and change and galloped out in 1:13 a week before the race and barely drank a half a bucket of water when she cooled out. They examined all her organs during the autopsy, and the report said everything was perfect."

Slivka said Hopelessly Devoted was only the second horse she has lost since coming into the business in 1987.

"This kind of thing doesn't happen often, but you never get used to it when it does," Slivka said. "The owner took it well. He said not to worry, we'll just find another one as good as her. She was a fighter, and now I'm just going to have to go out and fight hard, too. You can never give up."

Commentator has small fracture

Commentator, who suffered his first defeat in six starts when he finished a tiring seventh in Saturday's Grade 3 , came out of the race with a minute shin fracture that is still being assessed, trainer Nick Zito said Tuesday.

"On Sunday he was fine, but Monday morning he was not so fine," Zito said. "We took a routine X-ray and discovered a little line on his left shin, so we had digital X-rays taken."

Zito said the second set of X-rays had been sent to Dr. Larry Bramlage in Kentucky.

"We won't have the results until Wednesday or Thursday. He'll let us know if this is an injury that will simply require time to heal or if it's big enough to put in a screw," Zito said. "Either way it's nothing serious. He'll be fine. The good thing is that he's a gelding and will be able to race for a long time."

Commentator set a fast and pressured pace in the Hal's Hope before weakening through the stretch.

"In my mind he's probably not a two-turn horse," Zito said. "Perhaps he could get a mile and one-eighth around one turn at Belmont, but he's just too fast to do it around two turns when he's got to change leads again.

"Remember," Zito added, "he accomplished a lot in only a short time and also put on a lot of valuable weight between November and January, and I think the combination of the two was probably the reason he might have opened a little crack."

Dynever primed for Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Moubarak, racing manager for Buckram Oak Farm, said Dynever has joined Kissin Saint and Tamburello in quarantine at Payson Park following his second-place finish behind Badge of Silver in the Hal's Hope. All three horses are scheduled to ship to Saudi Arabia to compete in the 2 1/4-mile King's Cup at Riyadh on Feb. 18.

Moubarak said Buckram Oak purchased the three horses specifically to compete in the King's Cup. He said they would remain in training with Christophe Clement to prepare for the King's Cup while in quarantine.

"We were very pleased with Dynever's performance in the Hal's Hope," Moubarak said. "He ran a super race, and it should set him up perfectly to go 2 1/4 miles."

Meet back on track, McAlpine says

Jim McAlpine, president and CEO of Magna Entertainment Corp., was on hand for the opening weekend of the 2005 meeting. Despite the problems caused by the ongoing reconstruction of the plant, he was upbeat about the future of the session, which runs through April 24.

"We had some problems to begin with, but it's been a pretty exciting last couple of days," said McAlpine of Saturday and Sunday's programs. "The racing thus far has been great, and from both a horseman's and racing standpoint, everything has been spectacular. There was a beat to the place on Saturday that didn't exist over the opening few days.

"Right now we're basically a construction site," he said, "and this is going to be a fair-type meet. That's the way it is. But I believe people realize that fact and will be tolerant throughout the winter."

Hills may run three in Millions

Trainer Tim Hills will be a busy man on Jan. 29, when he may send out as many as three horses on two different coasts on the Sunshine Millions card. Hills is pointing Stormy Roman, third in Sunday's Ft. Lauderdale Handicap, to the Sunshine Millions Turf at Santa Anita, defending champion Mooji Moo to the Filly and Mare Sprint, and Vous to the Filly and Mare Turf. The Filly and Mare Sprint and Filly and Mare Turf will be run at Gulfstream.

Stormy Roman already is a Sunshine Millions veteran, having finished fifth in each of the first two renewals of the Turf. His third-place finish behind Union Place in the Ft. Lauderdale pleased Hills.

"He has a tendency to hang a little when in between horses like he was," Hills said. "I liked the way he ran over the Santa Anita course in what was essentially a paceless race two years ago, and Union Place might just wind up the horse to beat again out there."

Hills also worked Toll Taker, a promising 3-year-old filly, a half-mile in 46.80 seconds Monday. Toll Taker shaded 23 seconds for the final quarter of the very impressive breeze.

Toll Taker has not started since she stumbled and lost her rider leaving the starting gate as the 3-5 favorite in the Showtime Deb Stakes for Illinois-breds at Hawthorne on Nov. 13. In her previous outing, she won Belmont's Grade 3 Astarita Stakes by 3 1/4 lengths.

"I'm prepping her for the Old Hat," Hills said. "Basically she hasn't had a race since the Astarita, but she's a good work horse and has trained extremely well here this winter. She's bred to go long - her mother, Tappanzee, was stakes-placed around two turns - and I'm hoping she'll turn out to be my Oaks filly this year."