10/08/2004 12:00AM

Team Enthusiasm takes a shot


ARCADIA, Calif. - The first serious collaboration between racehorse owner Jim McIngvale and racehorse trainer Nick Hines will occur Sunday, when they will be represented in the $250,000 Ancient Title Handicap by the multiple stakes winner During.

Not since Mr. Barnum was introduce to Mr. Bailey has there been an association of such potentially entertaining dimensions. Racetracks should charge admission just to watch them in action.

McIngvale is a self-described all-American huckster who has made a fortune furnishing the homes of the upwardly mobile middle class out of his Houston command center. McIngvale's Gallery Furniture does anywhere from $150 million to $200 million in sales each year, much of it generated by ad campaigns featuring McIngvale as the manic selling machine known as "Mattress Mac."

Hines is a dedicated young trainer with enthusiasm to burn, who wraps each precious victory in his beloved stars and stripes. At some point in his life, Hines must have consumed the entire writings of Norman Vincent Peale, giving him an almost lethal dose of positive thinking to go along with old school horseman's values.

Both men win loud and hate to lose. Hines has been known to hipcheck trash cans and terrify customers as he makes his raucous way to the winner's circle after a victory by one of his horses. McIngvale, an all-around sports enthusiast, once had to apologize for his zealous cheerleading on behalf of American players at a Houston pro tennis tournament - mainly because the tournament was being hosted by McIngvale himself.

McIngvale's autobiography, published in 2002, is titled, "Always Think Big." He did not know Hines at the time, but the message has remained consistent.

"Mr. McIngvale told me he had three goals," Hines said. "To generate a profit, to win the Triple Crown twice, and to campaign an undefeated horse. As far as the way we both react to winning, I would love nothing more than for us to have an early fireworks display."

At six furlongs, the Ancient Title marks the final dress rehearsal for West Coast sprinters with designs on the Breeders' Cup Sprint in Texas - McIngvale country - at the end of the month. Only three of the 19 Ancient Title winners have won the BC Sprint: Cardmania, Elmhurst, and Kona Gold.

During has not sprinted six furlongs since he won a maiden race at Santa Anita in February of 2003, and after the Ancient Title, he is not likely to sprint again. The McIngvale-Hines blueprint calls for During to go from the Ancient Title to the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic, then conclude his career in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 27.

During's record of 6 wins in 19 races while trained by Bob Baffert included victories at 1 1/8 miles in the Swaps and the Discovery, at 1 1/16 miles in the San Fernando, and at one mile in the Jerome Handicap. In terms of the Breeders' Cup program, he is the typical "tweener," with none of the races truly fitting his proven strengths.

Still, Hines is not ruling out a run at the BC Sprint with During, depending upon Sunday's outcome.

"For this horse to make that transition, he would absolutely have to win the Ancient Title in a slam dunk," said Hines, "doing it in such a manner that I would have to say, 'Hey, this is our guy for the Sprint.'"

There is certainly a case to be made for middle-distance horses in a mad scramble like the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Winners such as Precisionist, Smile, Gulch, and Dancing Spree were even better known for their work at eight to 10 furlongs.

During's sire, Cherokee Run, won the 1994 BC Sprint, but his best races were at six or seven furlongs. Hines also noted that recent history has leaned more toward six-furlong specialists in the big race.

"In this day and age, as far as middle-distance horses coming back to a sprint, I think it's difficult," Hines said. "I think the tracks on the big days tend to be made speedier, carrying the traditional sprinters along."

Whatever the immediate future holds for During, Hines is fully aware of the fact that this is the best horse he has trained . . . so far.

"It's been a lot of fun to work with him," Hines said. "All class. He's a great turn runner, he's got incredible acceleration, and he has the ability to grind it out."

While the idea of using a six-furlong stakes prep for the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic three weeks hence may appear radical, the unusual training moves are what make the craft so intriguing.

Woody Stephens won the 1982 Metropolitan Mile, then the Belmont Stakes five days later, with Conquistador Cielo. In 1985, John Veitch won with Proud Truth on consecutive Saturdays in the Discovery Handicap and the Breeders' Cup Classic. And then there were all those Derby Trials won by the Calumet Farm colts on the Tuesday before the first Saturday in May.

"If it all came down to an exact science, who knows where I would be, because the people who came ahead of me would have already filled the game up," Hines said. "But you can try different things, because every horse is different. That's what makes this game so tough, as well as exciting and gratifying."