08/09/2006 11:00PM

Trying to save the not-so-famous

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DEL MAR, Calif. - In any battlefield situation, the legion of wounded will always outnumber the dead. In Iraq, for instance, there have been 2,597 American soldiers killed in combat, while another 10,547 have suffered wounds but survived, for now. In Vietnam, the totals were 47,410 combat fatalities, 153,303 wounded.

At Del Mar this summer, the battlefield analogy has been uncomfortably apt. Through the end of business on Wednesday, after three weeks and a day, there had been 11 horses who died as a result of injuries suffered either in racing or training. The wounded are harder to account for, since the troops are spread out over a vast barn area, and some survivable injuries do not make themselves apparent until hours after a race, or even an exercise.

When they get vanned off in front of thousands of fans, however, they become pretty hard to ignore. One of them was a mare named Home Tour, a 5-year-old daughter of Souvenir Copy who made it only partway through a 1 1/16-mile main track race for $10,000 claimers on July 20, the second day of the meet.

Home Tour suffered multiple fractures of the bones in her left front ankle. Horses have been euthanized for less, but Home Tour's people - trainer Bob Bean and three partners - decided to give her a chance.

In cold, economic terms, even as a salvage project Home Tour was not necessarily a good bet. True, the blood of Mr. Prospector and Deputy Minister coursed in her veins, her sire won the Del Mar Futurity and the Derby Trial, and her immediate female family displays major stakes winners Like a Charm and Heresomesthebride. But she earned just $67,860 in 24 starts, all claimers, spread out over four seasons, and she had not won a race in 2 1/2 years.

At one time or another, Home Tour ran for trainers Jose Corrales, Bob Hess, John Sadler, John Dolan, and then Bean, who took over in late 2005 and ran her 10 times.

"She did okay for me," said Bean, a disciple of such old-school horsemen as Noble Threewitt and Leonard Dorfman. "She was second four times, and I really thought she was ready to win the day she was hurt.

"I'm conservative like Leonard was. When one has a problem they go home and they get fixed. They don't run."

Bean and his partners were faced with a choice of either an $8,000 surgery, which came close to the mare's most recent advertised value, or a considerably less expensive fiberglass cast, which could allow the bones to knit on their own, while sacrificing the cosmetics and mobility that surgery might provide.

"Either way, there is still a danger of founder in a healthy leg," Bean said, pointing out a danger now recognized far beyond the racing world in this era of Barbaro's post-surgical challenges.

As it turned out, the partnership decided against keeping Home Tour at all, but don't panic. Bean found refuge for the mare with another of his clients, Craig and Becky Shields, at their Shields Thoroughbreds commercial breeding establishment in the Santa Ynez Valley. So, after nearly three weeks in a stall with her broken ankle braced by a Kimzey splint, Home Tour made the 125-mile journey from Bean's Santa Anita barn to Santa Ynez on Wednesday, arriving safely that evening. By Thursday morning, Becky Shields was getting a pretty good idea of what she was up against.

"I had two vets look at the X-rays, and they both thought we should be able to make her pasture-sound without surgery," said Shields, a transplanted Marylander.

"Unfortunately, it's not as good as we had hoped. We took the splint off her yesterday, and right now she's pretty much standing on her toe. We've got to get her to relax a little bit and get that foot down so it's level with the ground before we can put on the fiberglass cast.

"I think we'll be okay if she doesn't founder," Shields said. "And I'm actually more concerned about her foundering in her hind legs, because she seems to be kind of sitting back and trying to put a lot of weight behind. But she looks pretty good. She's bright, she's eating. And I like her a lot. She's a real pretty mare, and she has the temperament for this. She's quiet, she's smart, and she's taking care of herself."

If Home Tour can survive, it sounds like she has landed in clover. The Shieldses have 45 acres of prime valley land nestled against the oak-studded foothills. Shields Thoroughbreds, barely eight years in operation, is among the leading young establishments in the state.

"I'm happy to help, and I just hope I'll be able to breed her next year," Shields said of Home Tour. "I haven't gotten that far, of course. But obviously with Mr. Prospector on top and Deputy Minister going back to Northern Dancer, she certainly could go to Swiss Yodeler, or Old Topper. There are plenty of good choices around here.

"I'm optimistic - if we can just get her through these next few days. We'll keep a real close eye on her, and if she hasn't foundered, she might have a pretty good chance. We're going to do the best we can to save her."

Guess Home Tour couldn't ask for more.