12/23/2001 1:00AM

Versatility Dixie Dot Com's strong suit


ARCADIA, Calif. - He might not have been the best horse to race in California the last five years, but he wasn't far from it. And he was certainly among the most popular. What set Dixie Dot Com apart was his courage, consistency, and ability to bounce back repeatedly from injuries, qualities that Stephen Sahadi hopes will make Dixie Dot Com as big a hit in the breeding shed as he was on the racetrack.

Sahadi runs his family's Cardiff Stud Farms in Creston, Calif., where Dixie Dot Com now resides since being retired two months ago. A 6-year-old son of Dixie Brass, out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Sky Meadows, Dixie Dot Com is the best known of California's new stallions in the class of 2002. He will stand for a fee of $6,000.

"He was extremely versatile," Sahadi said. "He won going three-quarters at Golden Gate Fields, and ran very credible races at bullring tracks like Fairplex. He ran in Grade 1 races on the grass, finishing second in the Hollywood Derby, and he ran second in a Grade 1 on the dirt, the Pacific Classic. He won two Grade 2 races at Santa Anita, and he ran great in the mud. He could handle anything thrown at him."

Dixie Dot Com faced more curveballs than a left-handed batter against Randy Johnson. He fractured the cannon bone in his left front leg four times during his career. Three times, he came back to the races, winning a stakes race each time. Only after his fourth injury, this past October, was the decision made to retire him.

"He could have returned from this, too," said his trainer, Bill Morey Jr., "but it was time to move on. He had that shin, we know that, but never anything else. He was never injected. He was sound, except for that one weakness in that cannon bone."

Under Morey's handling, Dixie Dot Com raced five seasons, winning at least one stakes race each year. He won eight times in 23 starts, and earned $1,332,775.

Dixie Dot Com was purchased for $22,000 as a 2-year-old in training by Don and Carole Chaiken and Bart and Ronelle Heller. "Right from the get-go, we knew he was a runner," Morey said.

Dixie Dot Com began his career in northern California, where Morey is based, winning all three of his starts at age 2, including the Simply Majestic Handicap at Golden Gate Fields. In his first start at 3, Dixie Dot Com suffered the first of his four cannon bone injuries.

That fall, after recuperating, Dixie Dot Com returned and won the Foothill Stakes at Fairplex before finishing second in three straight races - the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, the Grade 3 Laz Barrera Handicap at Hollywood, and, in his turf debut, the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. He appeared poised to become one of the nation's leaders two months later in January 1999, when he crushed horses like Event of the Year in the Grade 2 San Fernando Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita. He won by 4 1/2 lengths, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 114. But soon after the race, Dixie Dot Com was found to have again fractured his cannon bone. This time, and only this time, surgery was performed.

When Dixie Dot Com came back to the races later that year, he struggled in his first few starts, losing three straight. But a return to the dirt at Santa Anita again propelled him to his best form. He won the Grade 2 San Pasqual Handicap, beating another popular veteran, Budroyale, and earning his lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure, 116. Dixie Dot Com was well-beaten in his next two starts, and again went to the sidelines with a fracture to the cannon bone. He was far from done, however.

Dixie Dot Com had his most productive year on the track this year, at age 6. Morey took him to Lone Star Park, where Dixie Dot Com ran away with both the Texas Mile and the Lone Star Park Handicap, both Grade 3 races.

"How's this for a Texas two-step?" track commentator Michael Wrona said in praise as Dixie Dot Com drew clear in the Lone Star Park Handicap. After finishing second to Euchre in the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap, Morey brought Dixie Dot Com back to California, and took aim at Del Mar's signature race for older horses, the Grade 1 Pacific Classic.

Less than two weeks before the Pacific Classic, Bart Heller died, which made the Pacific Classic a bittersweet race for Morey, the Chaikens, and Ronelle Heller. Even though the Classic-winning Skimming was not to be caught that day, Dixie Dot Com gallantly held on for second in the 1 1/4-mile race, which was at least a furlong beyond his optimum distance.

"He didn't win, but he ran a damn good race, and he out-gutted the others," Morey said. "I was just very proud of him. Mrs. Heller and I embraced on the track after the race. It was very emotional."

Dixie Dot Com only raced once more. He finished fifth in the Grade 2 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, a performance that caused Morey instinctively to know that something was amiss. Sure enough, the troublesome cannon bone had started to separate again.

Since the Hellers and Chaikens have been long-time clients of the Sahadi family, the move to Cardiff was a natural. Dixie Dot Com's pedigree has gotten a bit of a boost in recent months. His half-sister, Cherokee Crossing, is the dam of Siphonic, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity and a leading contender for next year's Kentucky Derby.

"He's the kind of horse who should do well in California," said Sahadi, adding that Dixie Dot Com should be bred to about 70 mares next spring. "He was a genuine horse, with speed, and he could carry his speed over a route of ground. He's got everything you look for in a stallion prospect."

He was everything a trainer could hope for in a racehorse, too.

"I sure hope another one comes along like him," Morey said. "He was the best horse I've been around. He was a neat horse."