04/16/2004 12:00AM

This time, Scooter Roach gets paid


STICKNEY, Ill. - The strange saga of Scooter Roach twisted again Saturday at Hawthorne.

Scooter Roach won the $92,000 Milwaukee Avenue Handicap, his biggest score in two years, and as far as anyone knows, his connections actually will receive this purse.

Scooter Roach was the horse who finished second to Flying Dash in the Hawthorne Derby of 2002, and when Flying Dash tested positive for an illegal race-day medication, the winner's share of the purse was redirected to Terrel Gore, who had bred Scooter Roach along with his wife, Lizbeth, and owned and trained him at the time.

Tell that to Gore. Two springs later, the money remains tied up by legal wrangling. And after being claimed two Decembers ago, his horse now is a stakes winner for trainer Michelle Boyce and owner Paul Cumberland.

Gore can actually still laugh. "It's just kind of easier not to think of it too much," he said early Friday afternoon. "All that legal mumbo-jumbo."

The Gores still receive breeders' awards each time Scooter Roach does well. Boyce and Gore are friendly, and she forewarned him the day she filed a claim for $35,000.

"I have a lot of horses that I raise and race every year, and I can't keep them all," Gore said. "I still root for him."

As for rooting, few do it better than Team Boyce, which wins its share each season. In the topsy-turvy backstretch world, this stable positively hums along. All harmony.

"I have very little turnover," Boyce said. "I consider myself extremely lucky to have the crew I do."

Mornings, they work hard, and come race day, they shout out their lungs. Saturday, the din rose as diminutive Scooter Roach - at 13-1 - fought between horses in midstretch of one of the biggest statebred stakes of the year. He turned back Act of War on the outside, and squeaked past the heavy favorite Wiggins to score by a half-length.

"He's just a sweet little horse," Boyce said. "When he gets everything right, he's a lot to handle. He has some health issues, but he's hard-trying. I fully realize Wiggins probably wasn't 100 percent his first start of the year. But our horse put it all together Saturday, and that was the right day."

Expect to see Scooter Roach back in Illinois-bred stakes as the year goes on. And look for the Boyce-trained filly Pass the Pepper to soon pop up in the entries. Pass the Pepper, now 5, has won six of nine starts, but hasn't raced since last summer, when she suffered a sudden onset of laminitis. Laminitis, or founder, happens for who knows what reason, but it can kill a horse. When the coffin bone in the foot rotates too far, the damage is irreversible.

"We were lucky to keep her alive," Boyce said. "We decided to bring her back, and give her one little shot."

Pass the Pepper has cleared all hurdles so far. Friday, she had her best work of the year, six furlongs in a bullet 1:13. "There's a race in the book, and we're pointing to it," Boyce said.

Fifteen Rounds fires a bullet

Another quick sprinter, Fifteen Rounds, worked five furlongs in a swift 1:00 here Thursday as he prepares for his 2004 debut. In his final start last year, Fifteen Rounds finished seventh in the Kentucky Cup Sprint, a race won by Cajun Beat, winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint in his next start.

Fifteen Rounds debuted here a year ago and won his first four starts before finishing second to Coach Jimi Lee in a listed Arlington stakes. Those two undoubtedly will face off sometime this summer, but Fifteen Rounds, despite the sharp breeze, is not quite set.

"He's not ready to run yet," said trainer Christine Janks. "You may not see him until Arlington."

Hawthorne, however, has been very good to Janks, who typically has her most productive months over the summer. This year, her horses have come to Hawthorne ready to run, and through Monday, Janks had six wins, sixth-best in the trainer standings.

Synco Peach moves up ladder

Synco Peach wasn't really supposed to win her comeback race here March 21. It had been 10 months since she had run, and an injury last summer at Arlington required surgery.

"I wasn't expecting her to win," said trainer Percy Scherbenske.

Synco Peach had little trouble disposing of nine Illinois-bred opponents. Things will be considerably more difficult in Sunday's featured eighth race, since Synco Peach faces open second-level allowance horses. But this filly's big run in a truncated 3-year-old season came in her second start, and the idea is for her to move forward on Sunday.

"I sure would think she could be a little tighter, a little fitter," Scherbenske said.

That little bit might be enough in a very tough race to figure. I Love Lisa might be a mild favorite for trainer Richard Hazelton, but she could get involved in a taxing pace battle.