11/02/2005 12:00AM

Wild Tale may try De Francis

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Benoit & Associates
Liz on Polk Street, shown winning the Safely Kept, has been retired at 4.

STICKNEY, Ill. - Trainer Mike Dini has won 15 races all season, actually not a bad year for his low-key racing stable. In fact, Dini is known to many horse people in the Midwest as much for his horse-hauling business as his training. But Dini and his owner, John Orecchio, have come up with a very nice sprinter named Wild Tale, a horse claimed for just $25,000 in September 2004 and who now operates at the graded stakes level. On Breeders' Cup Day at Belmont Park, Wild Tale almost overcame serious early trouble, finishing a fast-closing third in the $250,000 Sport Page Handicap.

Wild Tale is back at Dini's Hawthorne barn and certainly looks no worse for his recent journey. Now, Dini must decide whether to shoot for the stars or take an easier path with Wild Tale. The big race under consideration is the $300,000 De Francis Dash on Nov. 10 at Laurel; the lesser option is an overnight sprint stakes a week later at Churchill Downs.

"We're definitely going to nominate to [the De Francis], and we'll just have to see how tough it's going to be," Dini said.

Dini gives much credit to Orecchio for Wild Tale's development. Last winter, Wild Tale had won a second-level allowance race here at Hawthorne, but he had something brewing in his knee and either needed a rest or a class drop, by Dini's reckoning.

"Give credit to the owner," he said. "He decided to do the right thing."

Wild Tale got close to four months off, and after a June comeback race that he needed for fitness, he won a third-level Arlington allowance. Since then, Wild Tale has won a $125,000 stakes at Mountaineer Park and finished second in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup at Keeneland before his troubled third in the Sport Page.

The racing pattern is solid, but one thing you will not see much of in Wild Tale's form are workouts. "I just don't work much between races," he said. "I'd rather gallop and race."

Tragedy hits Catalano family

Wayne Catalano is winning some races at Hawthorne and gearing up for his winter in Florida, where he will have 24 stalls at the Palm Meadows training center, most of them filled with horses owned by Frank Calabrese. Catalano is a New Orleans native and often has wintered at Fair Grounds, but he is not going to Bossier City, La., for the Fair Grounds at Louisiana Downs meet this year. That means no mid-winter fireworks with Calabrese, who spends time in Florida and has strongly suggested in the past that Catalano take the horses there for the winter.

Some of the stock, "the Hawthorne kind of horses," Catalano said, will stay in Chicago when Catalano makes his move later this month. Two who are not among that group are Trippi Street, an impressive debut winner who was shipped to Churchill Downs early this week for Saturday's Pocahontas Stakes, and , who has been retired after finishing 10th in the Thoroughbred Club of America on Oct. 16 at Keeneland.

But right now, the Catalano barn still is under a pall. Catalano's nephew, Jose Hurst, was killed less than two weeks ago when his bicycle was struck by a truck on Cicero Avenue not far from the Hawthorne property. Hurst, a 29-year-old from New Orleans, had long galloped horses for Catalano and already had survived one tragedy. Two years ago, he was shot and badly wounded during a robbery and carjacking in New Orleans East. Catalano said Hurst, who is survived by a wife and child, would have turned 30 Tuesday.

Fort Prado on target for River City

Fort Prado, who won a hard-fought allowance race on Oct. 14 at Keeneland, worked a half-mile on dirt here Sunday and remains on track for the River City Handicap on Nov. 20 at Churchill Downs, trainer Chris Block said.

"I gave him a couple weeks break before I worked him back," said trainer Chris Block. "He's doing fine."

In Florida, Mystery Giver, the Block-trained turf standout, continues to progress as he attempts a comeback from an injury suffered in the 2004 Arlington Million. Mystery Giver has had two breezes and could make a start at the Tampa Bay Downs meet, Block said.

* Zetetic had a poor outside post at a distance that might be farther than his best and still finished fourth in an entry-level turf allowance here Oct. 14. In Friday's featured 10th race, another first-level allowance, Zetetic has drawn the rail and turns back in distance to one mile.