11/25/2008 12:00AM

Two veterans not done yet


In a roundabout way, horse lovers should be grateful for the message inadvertently sent by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin last week during a televised interview on the meaning of Thanksgiving . . . while she was standing in front of a guy slaughtering a turkey. No matter what the celebration, everyone should know how the meat hits the table.

That is why each and every horseplayer should at some point visit an equine clinic, a stockyard, or a Thoroughbred retirement facility. Don't worry, it won't turn you off to horse racing. If nothing else, it will increase the admiration for what these creatures offer in terms of beauty and entertainment, as well as heighten awareness about their ultimate fate.

Apparently, a few of the suits running the game have taken heed. The recent policy adopted by The Jockey Club to raise funds for Thoroughbred retirement programs through the foal registration process is an admirable move in a necessary direction. The registration form will include a contribution check-off box, and The Jockey Club will match the amounts, up to $200,000, for the 2009 registration year. Funds will be administered by the Thoroughbred Charities of America and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation.

While the ultimate effectiveness of such an "opt-in" fundraising program can be argued, give The Jockey Club credit for at least a symbolic acknowledgement of some responsibility for end use. After all, it is The Jockey Club that promotes and whole-heartedly endorses the production of Thoroughbreds.

This is a good time to give special thanks for two of them, a couple of tough hombres named Siren Lure and Johnny Eves, who staged impressive resurrections last Saturday with stakes victories out West. Both had fallen from Grade 1 grace, relegated to yesterday's news by a string of defeats. Even so, they had earned a chance to prove the flame still burned.

Before winning the Vernon Underwood at Hollywood, it had been nearly 11 months and seven races since Johnny Eves rattled Santa Anita with his victory in the Malibu Stakes, on Dec. 26, 2007. Jay Robbins, his trainer, kept the faith even though his horse was slow to find his groove after a layoff.

"He was training as well as he ever did," Robbins said. "I was just mystified by those first two races coming back. He didn't show much run, but then he showed more life in the Cal Cup Sprint before this one."

Siren Lure, now 7, had not seen the inside of a winner's circle since August 2006, when he won the Pat O'Brien Handicap at Del Mar. Presidential campaigns and entire economies have come and gone since then, but there was Siren Lure, still stepping up to the plate in the Sausalito Handicap at Golden Gate after a dozen straight losses for the families of Bay Area residents Stuart Kesselman and Tony Melkonian.

"They're the kind of owners a horse like this deserves," said Art Sherman, who has shared the training of Siren Lure this year with his son, Steve. "There was no way they would ever drop him for a tag. When he's through, he'll have a home the rest of his life. And he kind of had to run a pretty good 1-2-3 the other day if we were going to keep him going."

Siren Lure beat the heavily favored filly Indyanne by 1 1/4 lengths. He ran in Steve Sherman's name, but Art was there, the proud father and giddy gambler.

"Steve got him ready for his comeback this year, before he ran for me down south, so it was only right he run him up here," Art Sherman said. "I was able to just sit back and enjoy it, and I wound up even betting on him. I'm thinking, man, in the old days they would never run a 3-year-old filly against older horses. And don't get me wrong, she's a running fool. But the field was just laden with speed against her. I figured, if our old man's got one more left in him, he'll really be smoking that last part."

Sherman, whose horses are based in Southern California, has lingered up north to celebrate the holidays with the extended clan. Steve Sherman, 44, is nearing the end of his first full season as a head trainer after a career as his father's assistant.

"That was my son's first stakes winner," said Art, who put in the $50,000 claim for Siren Lure in May 2005. "Guess all the old horse needed was a trainer change."

Two opposite approaches to success

While we're at it, pass Steve Asmussen an extra piece of pumpkin pie and dust off a spot for what should be his first Eclipse Award. As overlord of the Asmussen training franchises throughout the East and Midwest, he can safely celebrate Thanksgiving at home in Texas having exceeded his own record for winners in a season - 557 and counting - along with a personal best purse total exceeding $25 million.

Still, if Eclipse voters need an alternative, John Shirreffs certainly offers a compelling version of a championship season by a Thoroughbred trainer. Even though he works on a much smaller canvas - having started just 93 runners compared with Asmussen's nearly 2,700 - no one can deny that his diamond-cutter approach is impressive. Given the differences in their operations, it seems absurd that both men have a license that says "trainer" and are judged by identical standards. At the end of the day, one of them gave us Curlin, the other Zenyatta. I would call that a push.