10/19/2004 11:00PM

Team A Huevo settles an old score

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PHILADELPHIA - You had to stay up late on Oct. 9 to see the best performance of Super Saturday. After all the great Breeders' Cup preview races had been run around the country, an 8-year-old West Virginia-bred gelding came back home to dominate nine overmatched rivals and settle a score that had been festering for five years. You had to be at Charles Town, at a simulcast site or, in my case, watching on my laptop in State College, Pa. It was some show.

Mark Hopkins and Andrew Beyer are partners in the company that produces Beyer Speed Figures, which appear in Daily Racing Form. A few years ago, Hopkins decided to become a horse owner. It probably was not the most intelligent decision of his life. He won some races and had some nice horses, but ownership is nothing if not frustrating.

In the summer of 1999, Hopkins privately purchased a 3-year-old West Virginia-bred gelding named A Huevo. The horse had just gotten a 98 Beyer in his second lifetime start. He got a 100 in his first start for Hopkins. This looked like a purchase with possibilities.

What Hopkins could not know was that A Huevo would not be the official winner of another race for four more years. He could not know the injuries the gelding would get. He could not know how many times the horse almost got back to the races, but didn't.

A Huevo's second start for Hopkins was at Charles Town in the 1999 West Virginia Breeders Classic. The horse was 2-5 against nine no-hopers. He won by 7 3/4 lengths, broke the track record for a 1 1/8 miles, and got a 102 Beyer.

Hopkins began to dream about major stakes against all the best horses. Sadly, A Huevo suffered an injury in the race. Later, the horse was disqualified after a Clenbuterol positive.

Trainer Michael Dickinson insisted the positive was bogus. There was Clenbuterol in the urine, but none in the blood. It can't be in one and not the other.

"There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from that," Hopkins said.

After months of legal wrangling, Dickinson was not suspended. Hopkins, however, never got the purse money.

"Michael got his good name back and I still got swindled," Hopkins said.

Fast forward four years and A Huevo, finally back to the races, won the Grade 1 De Francis Memorial at Laurel. He earned a 113 Beyer. It was a testament to Dickinson's wonderful training ability and the horse's talent. It was proof that the 1999 Charles Town performance was absolutely real.

A Huevo returned to the races this year in Grade 1 Forego Handicap at Saratoga on Sept. 4, just a few furlongs from Hopkins's home. Owner and trainer expected the horse to run very well.

"We didn't expect to win, but we certainly expected to scare the hell out of them," Hopkins said.

Instead, A Huevo never ran a step and finished seventh. Hopkins assumed the worst, figuring the horse was injured again and probably done.

"An abscess was found in his left front hoof four days after race," Hopkins said.

That, the owner figured, had to be the explanation. But you don't really know until they run.

And Hopkins decided it was time to run A Huevo back in the West Virginia Breeders Classic. A Huevo was 1-2. Just like he did in the Forego, he missed the break.

"I was concerned for about five seconds," Hopkins said.

Then A Huevo rolled past the field on the first of the three turns and began to improve his position. By the wire, he was 19 1/4 lengths in front. He got a 106 Beyer.

"Had Ramon [Dominguez] let him run, he might have won by 25," Hopkins said. "It was just so satisfying to see him run so well because we were all so concerned after the Forego."

According to Hopkins, the people at Charles Town, especially West Virginia Breeders Classics president Sam Huff and racing secretary Jim Hammond, "treated me very well. They bent over backwards for us."

Still, he was taking no chances regarding another positive test. "We went to great lengths this time to make sure there were no problems," Hopkins. "The horse was well guarded."

And there were no problems. The check and trophy are on the way.

Huff, the NFL Hall of Fame linebacker, left a nice message on Hopkins's answering machine.

"What a great night," Huff said. "I know you enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to seeing you next year."

If not next year, there is always 2009.