10/02/2001 11:00PM

They're following their hearts


ARCADIA, Calif. - It takes a strong heart to play the racing game, not to mention a hard head and an iron-clad stomach. Still, the heart is where it all begins - supplying the power, fueling the desire - which is why both Jock Jocoy and Wally Dollase woke up Wednesday morning feeling pretty good about the world.

One of them is a retired health nut who lives at the beach and the other is a young grandfather who likes to work outside. On the face of it, these would not appear to be stressful endeavors. But, as we know, the heart is an indiscriminate organ. When it attacks, it does not care who gets in the way.

Anyone who knows Dr. Jock Jocoy recognizes his ability to filibuster. After 47 years as a veterinarian, owner, breeder, and racing official, the former Navy boxer and San Diego lifeguard has a lot of stories to tell. It was a shock, therefore, to hear his usually seamless narrative broken into breathy phrases over the phone from his home in Del Mar.

Jocoy had left the hospital just the day before. He was there for 12 days, recovering from a procedure that sounded like the replumbing of Windsor Castle.

"I'm feeling pretty good, but I won't tell you no stories," Jocoy said. "I had a valve replacement, two bypasses, and a double set of pacemakers installed. My aortic valve was shot. Guess it was too much work for an old man all the time."

Jocoy wasn't exactly pruning roses or puttering around the garage. In fact, he was busy training for another run at the California Championships sponsored by the Senior Olympics. The decathlon has always been his event. But something was going wrong. At the end of his conditioning sprints, he would feel dizzy. Bright little stars would float in the clear morning sky. Then, on the morning of Sept. 13, after pulling up from a 120-meter run, he went to his knees and gasped for breath.

"My cardiologist kept telling me I was pushing too hard," he said. "When I went into his office that day, I was white as a sheet. He put the EKG on me and called my wife Katie to tell her he was checking me into the hospital immediately.

"I guess I'd pushed myself to the last inch," Jocoy added. "But it's like those other guys - Pincay, McCarron, Delahoussaye. They keep going out there, even though they've all made their money, and yet they want one more ride, one more winner."

Last Friday, while Jocoy was still in the hospital, Wally Dollase was at his Santa Anita barn, running his hands down the leg of a filly named Bare Necessity, when a hot flash washed through his body and his chest felt as if it were about to burst.

"It wasn't really pain, but a lot of pressure," Dollase said. "I was a medic in the Army, so I knew what it was. By the time I got to the hospital, my heart was going a hundred miles an hour."

It took a couple of days for his heart rate to stabilize. On Tuesday, an angiogram revealed that there had been no damage to the heart. By Wednesday, Dollase was back at his barn to supervise the final turf workout of I've Decided, a fast son of Bertrando who will be running Sunday in the Oak Tree Mile.

I've Decided is doing fine. Dollase, on the other hand, is still awaiting a definite diagnosis. Such symptoms had never hit him before.

"It was a shocker," he said. "But I go pretty hard. Maybe I should be a little more conservative. Take care of myself a little better. This was a good warning."

That all sounds good in theory. Dollase's job description, however, makes such promises almost impossible to fulfill. A Thoroughbred trainer, by definition and practice, is a walking stress factory. And most of the stress is self-imposed. It's a miracle more of them aren't hauled off every day with their arms numb and chests pounding.

"What happened to me was a mild thing compared to what could have happened," Dollase said. "I feel very fortunate. I shouldn't even be carrying a telephone around with me. But I do. I thrive on activity. Maybe I'll give myself one day off every week."

What a radical idea. And Jock Jocoy said he might need to back off track and field and consider golf. In the end, the heart always wins.

Jocoy will be 76 in February. His clients have included Rex Ellsworth, Reggie Cornell, Horatio Luro, Charlie Whittingham, and Eddie Neloy. He has just published a memoir, "Racehorse Doctor," with many photos included. One of them includes his cardiologist, Harold Shively.

"Since I've been home, I feel so much better," Jocoy said. "I'm getting a full pump of blood through my body. They say this will give me another 15 active years."

Dollase turned 64 in August. He has trained champions Jewel Princess and Itsallgreektome, as well as major stakes winners Sharp Cat, Deputy Commander, Helmsman, and Windsharp. On Sunday, as he lay in a hospital bed wondering what went wrong, he lost a horse and won a race at Santa Anita in the space of barely an hour when Missouri Slew suffered a fatal knee injury while finishing third and No Approval scored coming down the hill.

"What a game," Dollase said. "What a strange game. But I couldn't have chosen anything better than this business. That's why I'm not through yet."