10/11/2007 12:00AM

Stakes spotlight local heroes

EmailARCADIA, Calif. - This time of year, the steady drumbeat of anticipation for the Breeders' Cup can become deafening, as if the game has been reduced to a finite number of races taking place on a single, sanctified afternoon. It should be noted, then, that Saturday's racing at two key regional tracks offers a momentary respite from all things BC.

At Laurel Park, beginning just past noon, the 22nd version of the Maryland Million will play out in 12 acts, crowned by the $300,000 Maryland Million Classic at 1 3/16 miles.

Down south, Calder Race Course answers with 13 races of its own, eight of them making up the 15th Festival of the Sun and its his-and-hers, $400,000 events for 2-year-olds, the In Reality and the My Dear Girl.

That is a lot of local money to be throwing around - $3,260,000 between the two tracks - but not much of it leaves either Florida or Maryland, since the point of the exercise is to spotlight the sons and daughters of stallions standing in those states. It is okay if the names of those stallions do not come immediately to mind. Just remember that there was a time, way back in the 20th century, when Northern Dancer stood in Maryland and Mr. Prospector did business in Florida.

A respectable number of outstanding individuals have emerged from the Maryland Million and the Festival of the Sun. The short list is led by Safely Kept, an Eclipse Award sprint champion who won three Maryland Million races during her sparkling career, and 1994 Horse of the Year Holy Bull, who won the 1993 running of Calder's In Reality by more than seven lengths in his first race around two turns.

You will not find King Rex among the winners of Festival of the Sun events, although he did take the Manatee Handicap on the 1995 Festival undercard. Now age 15, King Rex will be in the middle of things at Calder on Saturday, and he won't even need to break a sweat. With trainer Laura Posada at his side, King Rex will be the star of what has become a popular Festival of the Sun tradition, a ceremony honoring retired Florida Thoroughbreds.

King Rex won 7 of 31 starts over four seasons and earned just shy of $170,000, which sets him apart from most of the foals of 1992 right there. A breathing problem finally ended his racing days, and since his last race in September 1998, he has been living the high life at Posada's farm in Rolling Oaks, about 20 minutes from Calder.

"He gets turned out in a big grass paddock every day, then taken in at night to his stall," Posada said. "He's in great shape, sound as can be, and I'll even ride him some in the winter when it's cooler. I'm pretty much his personal slave."

Which is the way it should be. Posada, a former jockey, credits King Rex as the horse who gave her early training career a shot in the arm. More recently, Posada's stable was on a roll with the 3-year-old sprinter Dream of Angels, a son of Trippi who had won two Florida stakes and 5 of 9 starts.

Then came last Saturday at Keeneland, where Dream of Angels was considered among the contenders in the Phoenix Stakes. However, before he could even set foot on the track, he flipped in the saddling paddock and fractured his skull so severely that euthanasia was the only option.

"It's one of those things you just can't explain," Posada said. "He is so low-key, just the calmest, most relaxed animal. He'd shipped there beautiful and hadn't turned a hair all week. It was devastating, and it makes you wonder about everything. But at the same time you have to take care of the ones you still have, and go on."

Posada kept referring to Dream of Angels in the present tense, as if he were back in his stall, waiting for supper. She gets to do that for a while, though, since the wound is still fresh, and the tragedy descended without warning.

The sadness won't lift by Saturday, but at least the prospect of bringing King Rex back to the track for the first time in nine years should give Posada something else to think about. She won't predict how the old boy will react, but she'll have a mild tranquilizer handy just in case.

"He might get a little excited, a little on edge," Posada said. "That's why I'm bringing him in the day before. But he's very smart, and a very good boy."

The appearance of King Rex at the Festival of the Sun is meant to draw attention to the issue of what happens to former racehorses who do not go on to careers in the breeding world. If every King Rex had a Laura Posada, there would be no need for the privately supported rescue, retirement, and rehabilitation facilities that exist hand-to-mouth in so many corners of the industry landscape. In reality, the game has failed to take care of its own. King Rex is one of the lucky.

"He was one of the first horses we ever trained, and we got more horses because of him," Posada said. "I always thought he deserved to be well taken care of."

They all do.