06/30/2009 11:00PM

Talent ignores geography


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In case anyone forgot, a good racehorse can come from anywhere. Anywhere, of course, being defined as not Kentucky, California, or New York.

Mine That Bird, the reigning Kentucky Derby winner, trained all last winter in New Mexico. Medaglia d'Oro, a Travers winner and sire of Rachel Alexandra, was raised in Montana. And if I'm not mistaken, the 2006 North American Horse of the Year came from a little corner of South America called Uruguay. That would be Invasor.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the latest 3-year-old sprinting talent to emerge from the West popped up in the central California farm town of Stockton last Sunday, on the final afternoon of the San Joaquin County Fair, one day after the Neville Brothers rocked the main concert stage. Dang, missed 'em again.

Carbonite, a son of the 2003 sprint champion Aldebaran, performed like a seasoned old pro in just his fourth start to win the $50,000 Pink Ribbon Invitational Stakes at six furlongs. The Pink Ribbon was the centerpiece of Breast Cancer Awareness Day at the fair, which dovetailed nicely with a similar event at Belmont Park the previous afternoon, when Rachel Alexandra carried her pink ribbon to a lopsided win in the Mother Goose.

Carbonite is trained by the respected veteran Dennis Patterson and was bred and races for the Mercedes Stable of Ernie Moody, whose biggest splash was with 2005 Santa Anita Handicap winner Rock Hard Ten. In naming his fast young colt Carbonite, Moody was either paying homage to the popular online backup software of the same name, or mixing Star Trek and Star Wars references. (The star system Aldebaran is referred to several times by Enterprise crew members, while Han Solo was frozen in a "carbonite" block by Darth Vader, or, for fans of "Spaceballs," Dark Helmet.)

At 73, Patterson is having a great roll with his 14-horse stable, with his son and assistant Bill at his side. The barn also won the May 23 Alcatraz Stakes on the Golden Gate grass with Run It, a son of Cherokee Run owned by Mercedes Stable.

"I was hoping to bring Run It down for the Oceanside on opening day at Del Mar," said Patterson, a Southern California native who got his start at Caliente. "But he came up with a little foot problem not long after his race, so we'll just have to wait."

While Carbonite hit his mark at Stockton, it was Patterson who was a no-show, on doctor's orders. He had been out of the hospital for barely a week after going down with pneumonia. Patterson was asked how many days he went to work seriously ill before, in true horse trainer fashion, he was forced to see to his own health.

"A few, I guess," Patterson said with a laugh. "I finally couldn't get out the door, so they hauled me away and put me on the vet's list."

Patterson is among the displaced horsemen of Northern California, having made Bay Meadows his home until racing ended there last September. The track is a pile of rubble now, thanks to the development plans of the Bay Meadows Land Co., and Patterson's horses are housed at Golden Gate Fields. But then, this time of year they're all gypsies on the circuit anyway, bouncing from county fair to county fair. It is Alameda's turn now, in the East Bay town of Pleasanton.

Patterson was high on Carbonite even before the colt made his first start. With half a century at the job, he knows a good one when he sees one. After winning his first two races at Golden Gate, Carbonite shipped south for the Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes on May 24 and finished sixth. Patterson has decided to stop looking for an excuse for that one, since the colt broke well and simply could not get any closer than six lengths from the winner, the far more experienced Charlie's Moment. The Barrera was on a synthetic surface, though, which means Carbonite was back on dirt at Stockton.

"The racetrack is fine there," Patterson said. "The main thing you're battling is the heat. It was 110 there the other day."

Patterson thinks it will take a lot more than hot weather to crack Carbonite's cool demeanor.

"He's got such a great mind," he said. "He just seems to have that extra energy good horses seem to have. A lot of times they can be worrisome to train, doing something silly on the track. But he's not that way. Oh, he's a little tough around the barn. He likes to rear every once in a while. But when he trains, you can do whatever you want to do with him. And when he ships, wherever he goes he's home."

Good thing, too, because Patterson may be shopping far and wide for places to run Carbonite. With only one major track in Northern California, opportunities figure to be limited for a colt of such clear quality. But even if you listen real hard, you will not hear the trainer complain.

"It's nice to see Plan A work for once," Patterson said.