07/27/2005 12:00AM

Stiritz had to be coaxed to claim Mr. Mabee


After Mr. Mabee's convincing 5 1/2-length victory in the $122,500 Emerald Claiming Crown at Canterbury Park on July 16, his connections are pointing the 4-year-old toward the $150,000 Sea O'Erin Breeders Cup Mile on the Arlington Park turf on Aug. 6.

Fairmount-based owner Bill Stiritz and his trainer, Jimmy Zook, claimed Mr. Mabee at Hawthorne on April 15 for $17,500 from WinStar Farm, the same Kentucky-based outfit that lost subsequent multiple graded stakes winner Lord of the Game for a $10,000 tag at Hawthorne last New Year's Eve. Sired by Storm Cat, Mr. Mabee proceeded to win a $27,000 allowance race at Arlington for the Stiritz-Zook stable before prevailing in the Emerald.

Zook is still gleefully scratching his head at this spate of good fortune - and the peril narrowly averted en route to the claim.

"The horse has got a brother that's made $500,000 on the grass, and his dad stands for a half-million dollar fee, so no one can figure out why they even put him in for a price," said Zook, who works exclusively for Stiritz, a former Ralston Purina executive who owns Fairmount Park in addition to a large stable of racehorses stabled at his track

Zook had to lobby hard to Mr. Mabee, as Stiritz sought to atone for the loss of a Mr. Prospector progeny, Argentia Bay, 3 1/2 weeks earlier.

"I thought it was one of the slowest horses in our stable," said Zook of Argentia Bay, a 3-year-old gelding. "But Bill thought that was a terrible mistake to run him for a tag, and wanted to claim him back. I said, 'This horse is a pig, I don't want him back.' So we saw there was a horse by Storm Cat in the same race and decided to claim the Storm Cat colt instead."

Zook acquired Mr. Mabee without so much as shaking for him, and the colt went on to win the race decisively - and finish 51 lengths in front of Argentia Bay.