03/18/2006 12:00AM

Will talent override extended layoff?


CHICAGO - He wins with maidens, allowance horses, dirt sprinters, and turf routers. Trainer Wayne Catalano won 36 percent of all his horses' starts in 2005. But what about a 6-year-old horse that hasn't raced in 2 1/2 years?

Don't count him out.

My Calabrese, bred and owned by Catalano's primary owner, Frank Calabrese, is set to make his first start since November 2003 when he goes in the featured eighth race Monday at the National Jockey Club meet. It was late in the winter of 2002 that My Calabrese first publicly showed talent, making a favorable impression in a Fair Grounds schooling race. He won twice in the spring of 2003 and clearly was a fast horse, but after a layoff of several months and a return in the fall of that year, My Calabrese was injured and vanished into the wilderness.

"Mr. Red Curtin had him down in Florida," Catalano said. "He brought him back a couple times, and the horse didn't make it. He was supposed to be ready, he wasn't ready, he was supposed to be ready, he wasn't ready."

This time, My Calabrese has made it as far as a comeback race, and it has to be seen as a positive sign that his connections - ultra-realistic in their placement of horses - have chosen a second-level allowance race rather than some sort of claimer. My Calabrese worked twice at the Palm Meadows training center in Florida and twice since shipping into Hawthorne.

"From what I see on him, yeah, he acts like he's tight enough," said Catalano.

My Calabrese has speed and is well drawn to use it on the far outside post, from which jockey E.T. Baird can look over and see what the other pace players are up to on the backstretch. My Calabrese's inherent ability level seems greater than any of his 10 rivals in this six-furlong race, and bettors must decide at what odds the potential rewards outweigh the risk of playing a horse coming back from such a long break.

Toribio suffers broken hand

Jockey Abdiel Toribio, who came to Hawthorne from south Florida, broke his hand in an ugly spill on the far turn of the ninth race Friday. Toribio was riding Me Pay Bills, a career maiden, when the horse fractured a foreleg and went down while racing close to the lead and along the rail. Toribio was nearly trampled by trailing horses, but walked to the ontrack ambulance under his own power a few minutes after the fall. His agent, Jimmy Ernesto, told Hawthorne officials that Toribio was expected to miss three weeks. Me Pay Bills, trained by Joey Camardo, was euthanized.