10/18/2007 11:00PM

Smokey travels in Fog's footsteps

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - Once the heart is broken you tend to button up, at least for a while, until the wound heals and the worst parts of the memory mercifully fade away.

Trainer Greg Gilchrist and owner Harry Aleo, the men behind champion sprinter Lost in the Fog, could be forgiven if they never ran another horse in the Breeders' Cup again. Two years ago, riding on the wings of their undefeated colt Lost in the Fog, they descended upon Belmont Park for the Breeders' Cup Sprint as the most heavily favored package of the entire afternoon. When he was beaten, and beaten badly, the horse sense in Gilchrist and Aleo told them they'd gone a bridge too far, and that all Lost in the Fog needed was a little rest before he'd be as good as new again.

It wasn't that simple. Lost in the Fog returned in 2006 to win, but something wasn't quite right, and by late that summer it was discovered that his spine and abdomen were harboring large and malignant tumors. Surgery was impossible, while chemo and radiation would have only increased his suffering. Lost in the Fog was euthanized on Sept. 17, 2006.

In horse racing, there is time to mourn, but you've got to do it on the run. Two weeks after the death of Lost in the Fog, Gilchrist and Aleo were still hollowed out. But that did not stop them from appreciating the victory of their 3-year-old gelding Smokey Stover in a Golden Gate allowance race. With 3 wins and 3 seconds in 6 starts at the time, he was a good horse getting better. Still, he was no Lost in the Fog.

He still isn't. But that does not mean Smokey Stover won't be very salty when he faces Midnight Lute, Greg's Gold, Kelly's Landing, and the rest of the classy bunch lining up for the 2007 version of the Breeders' Cup Sprint next Saturday at Monmouth Park.

The field is deep and strong, one of the best in years, and the winner will establish a strong case for being elected champion sprinter. Smokey Stover's name on the short list of likelies has the 87-year-old Aleo shaking his head.

"I can't believe it," Aleo said from his home in the Noe Valley district of San Francisco. "It hasn't sunk in yet. After Lost in the Fog, why should I ever get a chance like this again, when there are sheikhs who spend millions and millions more than I do?"

Karma comes to mind, although Aleo is not exactly a New Age kind of guy. His story was well told during the Lost in the Fog saga - minor league pitcher, World War II vet, pioneer in Bay Area real estate - and things haven't changed a bit. Aleo is still the rock-ribbed Reagan Republican thorn in the side of his liberal San Francisco neighbors - "lefty loonies" he calls them affectionately, with taunting messages posted in the windows of his 24th Street office - and whose well-developed sense of humor leaks out sometimes in the way he names his horses.

Take High Resolve, for instance. The 2-year-old filly, now 2 for 2 after an embarrassingly easy win on Thursday at Bay Meadows, is by the Honour and Glory stallion Put It Back, also the sire of Smokey Stover. Aleo originally had something else in mind.

"I wanted to name her Winona," Aleo said, then waited for the joke to sink in, which it finally did. In 2002, actress Winona Ryder was convicted of shoplifting and sentenced to 480 hours of community service.

"They didn't give it to me, so I had to come up with one quick," Aleo went on. "Back in the 1940s there was a horse I liked a lot named High Resolve. He could really run."

No kidding. High Resolve, a foal of 1941, began his career in California while Aleo was still fighting Germans with George Patton in Europe. He was still going strong when Harry returned home to San Francisco after the war, and good enough to win the 1945 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar. By the time he was through, High Resolve raced for nine seasons, made 97 starts, and won 24 races.

Aleo also dipped into his past to name Smokey Stover, better known to those of a certain age as a popular American comic strip, drawn by Bill Holman, that made its debut in 1935. The title character is a loopy fireman who spends most of his time pulling firehouse pranks and figuring out new ways to rescue cats from trees

"Somebody sent me an old Smokey Stover badge out of a Kellogg's Corn Flakes box," Aleo said. "I'll be wearing it when he runs."

Aleo was front and center in New Jersey on Sept. 1 when Gilchrist gave Smokey Stover a race over the Monmouth Park strip in the Icecapade Stakes. He won it by two lengths, generating a 110 Beyer Speed Figure in the process.

"I liked Monmouth," Aleo said. "What was better, Smokey liked it."

Enough to give him the old Lost in the Fog vibes?

"No, not yet," Aleo said. "Fog was one of a kind, a totally different feeling. But this is a nice horse. It's a tough race, but Smokey's tough, too. I just hope he runs his race. If he does, he can win."