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SANTA ANITA

For Roo Tale, It's a Sad Ending

March 06, 1997|BOB MIESZERSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trainer Bob Hess Jr. lost an old friend eight days ago and he wasn't alone in his sadness.

Many others around the track were upset by what happened during the running of the seventh race, a $62,500 claimer for older horses, at Santa Anita on Feb. 26.

A little over halfway through the 1 1/16 mile race, Roo Tale, an 8-year-old, Maryland-bred gelding running his 56th race, dislocated his ankle, ruptured the suspensory ligaments in his right front leg and had to be euthanized.

Jockey David Flores told Dave Bernstein, one of several trainers Roo Tale had won races for, there was no warning.

"David said he was just cruising along and it just happened," Bernstein said. "It was very, very sad. We'd had almost no problems with him.

"He was a barn favorite around here. He was a lovely horse to be around. He was a real gentleman."

Roo Tale was also a true professional, the kind of horse everybody would love to own.

A son of Roo Art out of a Vice Regent mare named Regency Tale, he won sprinting on both turf and dirt and he won going distances on both surfaces. Such versatility is rare.

He won stakes races at Fairplex Park and Fresno and, besides those two tracks and Santa Anita, he competed at Del Mar, Hollywood Park, Turf Paradise, Albuquerque, Pleasanton, Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows.

Roo Tale won 21 times, was second on 16 occasions and finished third four times. He had earnings of $458,671, not bad for a horse who once ran for a $6,250 price tag.

Originally owned by Jan, Mace and Samantha Siegel and trained by Brian Mayberry, Roo Tale didn't begin his career in rousing style. After breaking from the rail in a sprint at Del Mar, he finished last against $50,000 maidens.

He did catch the eye of Hess, though, and the trainer claimed him when Roo Art returned to break his maiden that fall against $32,000 rivals.

"I was in the paddock because I was running another horse and I saw him schooling," Hess said. "He was a gorgeous horse. I claimed him strictly off his looks."

Appearance doesn't pay the bills, however, and, Roo Tale didn't do much of anything at age 3.

He also came up with a leg problem, according to Hess, a type, that had it worsened, could have spelled the end to his racing career. So, he was sent to Hess' father, Bob Sr., in Northern California and dropped in class.

Roo Tale responded with three straight victories and the leg problem, to the younger Hess' amazement, disappeared. Then he started making his way up the claiming ladder.

"He got his confidence back," Hess said. "I was very sad when we lost him [on a $40,000 claim Nov. 13, 1993, at Oak Tree], but I never rooted against him.

"I enjoyed watching him continue to win even though I didn't train him anymore. He was a personal favorite and a personal friend. Around the barn, I put my kids on him to ride.

"[The fatal injury] shocked me. I just went home that night and tried to forget about it. He was the greatest in terms of personality and desire. He would have given his life to win a race. I would have liked to have gotten him back after he was retired and made him my saddle horse. He would have made a great one."

Hess won seven races with Roo Tale, but the bay scored 10 of his wins, nearly half his total, for the Three Point Stable of owner Ed Corey. He won four times in Arizona, then was brought back to California and trainer Bob Marshall.

Corey, who has been among the country's top winning owners more than once, had a special feeling for Roo Tale.

"Of all the horses he's had, Roo Tale was his favorite," Marshall said. "He was quite a horse. It seemed like he could and would run over anything.

"He was easy to gallop and easy to train and he always knew when it was the day of a race. He was very smart. Every time you sent him out, you knew you were going to be [in contention]."

Tried on the grass by trainer Keith Desormeaux after he claimed him for $50,000 nearly a year ago, Roo Tale won twice and was second and third in two other grass starts before Bernstein claimed him for owners Ron and Melodie McAtee last July 21.

"He was a really good looking horse and he was what the owners liked to call 'an old professional,' " Bernstein said. "He was a real genuine campaigner and [the L.A. County Fair meeting] was coming up and we knew he liked the track over there."

At Fairplex, Roo Tale gave the McAtees their first stakes victory, the C B Afflerbaugh last Sept. 22. It turned out to be his last win.

"He was aggressive and always took what he was doing seriously," said Tracy Jones, a former stable foreman and exercise rider for Hess. "He loved his job."

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