08/02/2007 11:00PM

Small ranch bred a star in 'Laura'


Allan Lilley admits that he and his wife, Antoinette, had more enthusiasm than expertise when they decided to become Thoroughbred breeders in the early 1990s.

The couple had a few mares retired from racing, and the intricacies of breeding initially escaped Allan Lilley.

"I didn't look at their pedigrees," he said earlier this week. "That's how we got our feet wet. I wouldn't think of doing that now."

Today, the stakes are much higher for their still small operation. The Lilleys, who live in Tracy, Calif., are on the verge of becoming the breeders of a millionaire in Somethinaboutlaura, who is entered in Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar.

A winner of 15 of 27 starts and $913,315, Somethinaboutlaura would become the seventh California-bred female millionaire if she pulls an upset win in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch, which is run at 1 1/16 miles.

The Lilleys have minimal ties with Somethinaboutlaura, occasionally attending her races when she starts in Northern California. They no longer own her dam, Crystals of Ice, who was one of their first racehorses when they launched a small stable in the late 1980s. Crystals of Ice died after the Lilleys sold her, Allan Lilley said.

The couple claimed Crystals of Ice at the county fair in Vallejo, Calif. Today, the couple has three broodmares boarded at Woodbridge Farm and a few runners based in Northern California.

There is no longer a Lilley Ranch. Allan Lilley underwent open heart surgery in 2004, and the couple decided that the physical work involved in raising horses would be too much of a burden.

They sold their farm on the outskirts of Tracy and moved into the town, Allan Lilley said.

"I have a mechanical aorta valve that works just fine," Allan Lilley said of his health. "It sounds scary, but they say it will last 50 years. That means it will work until I'm 110."

Lilley, 63, is retired from a job as the manager of a Wal-Mart and spends time focusing on the couple's horses.

"We just bought a filly that we're racing," he said. "When she retires, we'll turn her into a broodmare. We breed basically to sell. We don't breed to race."

Somethinaboutlaura was sold by the Lilleys as a weanling. By Dance Floor, she seemed to be anything but a millionaire candidate at the start of her career. After finishing 11th in a maiden claimer at Del Mar in 2004 in her debut, she won 5 of 6 starts in 2005, a sequence that ended with her first stakes win in the Palo Alto Handicap at Bay Meadows.

In early 2006, she was purchased for $375,000 by a partnership that includes trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Since joining his stable, she has run in 17 consecutive stakes, won nine of them, and never been worse than fifth.

Somethinaboutlaura has won her last three starts, a streak that includes a defense of her title in the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap at seven furlongs at Hollywood Park on July 6.

Sunday's race is tougher, with the presence of fellow California-bred Nashoba's Key, who is unbeaten in five starts, and the three-time Grade 1 stakes winner Balance.

"She's in pretty tough," Lilley said. "That Balance will be tough to beat."

Somethinaboutlaura "is just something else," he said. "She's very, very competitive. They could see that when they were breaking her because of her competitive nature. That's exactly the way the mother was. She had a few physical problems, but she had the desire.

"I think 1 1/16 miles is a shade longer than she likes. She's won 1 1/16 miles, but not at this level. I don't sell her short."