06/28/2006 12:00AM

A win years in the making

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Memorette's victory in the Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park last weekend added yet another layer to the growing reputation of the American Oaks as a bubbling hotbed of talent.

Rarely has a new race caught fire so quickly. One look at the some of the names who hit the board in the first four runnings is enough to make the case. Cesario, Megahertz, Dimitrova, Ticker Tape, Dublino, Dance in the Mood, Sand Springs - any one of those alone could nail down the number one stall in a given stable.

Last year's American Oaks field was especially deep. By finishing sixth, Memorette did herself proud. Coming home in front of her were the runaway winner Cesario, a Japanese champion, plus undefeated Melhor Ainda, eventual Del Mar Oaks winner Singhalese, subsequent Garden City Handicap winner Luas Line, and Honeymoon Handicap winner Three Degrees. Among those behind Memorette that day were Silver Cup, a winner of three stakes earlier this year at Santa Anita, as well as Hallowed Dream, winner of the 2006 Yerba Buena.

Before the Beverly Hills, Memorette had the look of a filly who spent most of her time banging on destiny's door. Between the fall of her 2-year-old season and this spring at age 4, she had finished second or third in such telltale events as the Oak Leaf, the Las Virgenes, the Santa Anita Oaks, the Ashland Stakes, the Hollywood Oaks, and the San Clemente Handicap.

But if Bill Currin was frustrated, he hid it well. Currin trains Memorette and owns her with his his wife, Betty, and has already invested nearly half his life in the serendipitous making of the filly.

Currin is a North Carolina farm boy who ventured west as a young man and made his fortune building homes in places like Palm Springs and Pleasanton. The Memorette story had its seeds at Keeneland in 1976, when Currin and his racing mentor and fellow developer, W.R. "Fritz" Hawn, were attending the sales.

Hawn was a noted breeder, owner, and racetrack director whose best horses included Vigors, Blue Norther and Lovlier Linda, while Currin was still a relative rookie to the higher elevations of the game. At one point in the auction, a daughter of Key to the Mint caught Currin's eye, and he commenced to bid, with a mental limit of $25,000 in the back of his mind. As the bidding passed $25,000, Currin began sweating bullets.

"You really love this horse, don't you?" Hawn said.

"Fritz, I am absolutely in love with her," came Currin's reply.

"Well then, why don't you bid just one more time," Hawn suggested.

"Just as he said that, his finger went up and the hammer went down," Currin recalled this week. "The price was $33,000, an awful lot for me to spend on a horse back then. But he said, 'Don't worry about it, we'll partner up,' and we had nothing but fun."

The filly became Fondre, winner of 11 races, five of them stakes, including the 1980 Monrovia Handicap at Santa Anita in a field that included major stakes winners Terlingua and Image of Reality. That day Fondre went off at a cool 120-1.

"I bet, Fritz bet, and a doctor friend of his bet everything in his pockets," Currin said. "There's no telling how many thousands of dollars we won that day."

The partners eventually sold Fondre in foal to Alleged, for $900,000, to the Oak Cliff Stable of Tom Tatham. Nine years and five so-so foals later, Fondre was for sale again, and carrying a son or daughter of Skywalker. Bidding by phone from an airport waiting lounge, Currin didn't blink this time as the bidding hopped along. He got her again, for $33,000.

In 1991, Fondre produced Forever Fondre for Currin, and then in 2002 Forever Fondre gave him Memorette, courtesy of the stallion Memo. Looking in the other direction, sticking to the female line, Fondre was a daughter of Miss Malapan (foal of 1970), who was a daughter of Polygamous (1960), whose dam was Lebkucken (1954), who was out of Brown Biscuit, who was produced by Swing On. By the time Brown Biscuit hit the ground in 1936, her half-brother Seabiscuit had already made about 35 starts.

"That's good to know," Currin said, only half-joking. "Memorette traces straight to Seabiscuit's half-sister. I've got everybody and his brother calling me trying to buy this filly. But how can I sell her? She was a gift."

With her three-quarter-length victory in the Beverly Hills over the Neil Drysdale-trained Live Life, Memorette would seem to have nothing but rich potential ahead. Currin is not shy about planning big.

"She came out of the Beverly Hills dry as a bone," Currin said. "We even debated washing her, and if it hadn't been a Saturday we might not have.

"As for what's next, we have a plan," Currin added. "We'll look at the Mabee Handicap at Del Mar, and then after that, who knows? There's always the Filly-Mare Turf at the Breeders' Cup. Whatever we do we'll have fun doing it, because nobody in the world enjoys the racetrack as much as me and Betty."