02/06/2004 12:00AM

Two championships to Joey Franco


ARCADIA, Calif. - Joey Franco, a four-time stakes winner in 2003, has been named California-bred champion older male and champion sprinter and is a leading contender for the horse of the year title, which will be announced Monday in Sacramento.

Joey Franco earned the two divisional championships through voting conducted by the members of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

In other divisional honors, Cee's Elegance was named champion older female; Ninebanks, turf champion; Valentine Dancer, 3-year-old female; Excessivepleasure, 3-year-old male; House of Fortune, 2-year-old female; and Don'tsellmeshort, 2-year-old male.

Excessivepleasure had the most lucrative campaign, winning 3 of 9 starts and $821,782. None of his wins came in California, which is odd for a California-bred.

Owned by Ty and Lee Leatherman, Excessivepleasure won the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park, the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows, and the Grade 3 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park.

By In Excess, Excessivepleasure is also a candidate for statebred horse of the year. This year, he has lost his first two starts, finishing seventh in the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Stakes on Jan. 10 and 10th in the Sunshine Millions Classic on Jan. 24.

Joey Franco is currently recovering from injury, trainer Darrell Vienna said Friday.

Owned and bred by Jerry Frankel of Del Mar, Joey Franco won 4 of 10 starts and $452,361 last year.

By Avenue of Flags, Joey Franco made his first three starts of the year for David Hofmans before being sent to Vienna in March.

Following the move, Joey Franco finished second in the Grade 2 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap before scoring three consecutive stakes wins at Hollywood Park - the Tiznow Stakes for statebreds, the Ack Ack Handicap, and the Grade 1 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap.

After finishing eighth in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap, Joey Franco rebounded with a two-length score in the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap over a mile. He made his final start in the Grade 2 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap Oct. 4, finishing fourth.

Joey Franco has been sidelined since that race and is expected to return to Vienna's stable in early February.

Vienna said he is optimistic that Joey Franco will win the horse of the year title.

Cee's Elegance has been retired. Owned by Cee's Stable, she made her final start in the California Cup Matron on Nov. 8, finishing seventh. By In Excess, Cee's Elegance won 2 of 6 starts in 2003, scoring two stakes wins during the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting - the B. Thoughtful Stakes and the Grade 2 A Gleam Handicap, both sprints.

Valentine Dancer excelled on turf and dirt. Owned by Al and Sandee Kirkwood, she won 5 of 14 starts, including the Ramser Handicap on turf at Santa Anita and the Cat's Cradle Handicap on dirt at Hollywood Park. In her first start of 2004, she won the $500,000 Sunshine Million Filly and Mare Turf.

Ninebanks raced primarily in northern California. Owned by Peter Abruzzo, Ninebanks won 3 of 9 starts. His wins last year came in the Grade 3 Golden Gate Breeders' Cup Handicap, Grade 2 San Francisco Mile, and California Turf Championship.

The 2-year-old champions raced in Southern California.

Don'tsellmeshort won 4 of 8 starts for Cecil Peacock. By Benchmark, he won three stakes, the Graduation at Del Mar, the Barretts Juvenile at Fairplex Park, and the males division of the California Breeders' Champion Stakes at Santa Anita.

House of Fortune won two stakes for Arnold Zetcher - the Cover Gal Stakes and the California Juvenile Fillies. She later finished third in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes.