Jimbo and Jimmy Al. Two of my best friends, said Basil Plasteras.
Both men figure prominently in the background of the New Jersey restaurateur's Preakness contender, Koluctoo Jimmy Al, the 3- year-old who ran the fastest 9 furlongs of any horse at Aqueduct last winter and skipped the Kentucky Derby to run in the Preakness.
Jimbo -- Vince Bracciale Jr., one of the sport's top jockeys for a number of years -- raised the rangy roan gelding at his Howard County farm.
Jimmy Al -- Jimmy Albano -- "wasn't feeling too good a few years ago," Plasteras said. "We'd been pals a long time, and occasionally he tended bar for me. I said, 'Jimmy, I've got this horse -- the first one I've ever bred -- would it help perk you up if I named him after you?'
" 'Yeah,' he said. 'I'd like that.'
"So that's how Koluctoo Jimmy Al got his name, although originally I applied for Jimmy Al Who."
The Koluctoo prefix comes from the dam's name, Koluctfully. She is a daughter of Koluctoo Bay, a major stakes winner owned by trainer Bruce Levine's father, Robert Levine. "That horse was named after a place [in northern Canada] where my uncle used to go fishing,"Bruce Levine said.
The Levines and the Koluctoo family of equines are well-known in New York. In 1985, Bruce Levine brought a filly named Koluctoo Jill to Pimlico and won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, the female counterpart to the Preakness.
Plasteras and Bracciale got to be friends when Bracciale rode at Monmouth Park.
Plasteras' restaurant, the Squires Pub, is a New Jersey steak and seafood house close to the track.
"When I wasn't doing too good riding, I'd go over there and cook," Bracciale recalled.
"But I had to quit when I ate too much and got up to 119 pounds," added Bracciale. "I remember once I had won a $50,000 stakes at Keystone [now Philadelphia Park] on Lac Ouimet. I called 'Base' after the race and asked him, 'Do you still want me to cook?'
"He said: 'Hurry up and get here. We're jammed.'
"But when I got there, he put me on the dishwasher. That's how I celebrated my stakes win, washing dishes from 8 to 11 p.m."
Plasteras, an admitted racing addict since he was a teen-ager, has owned a number of stakes horses, such as Valiant Lark, who was trained by Henry Carroll, My Baby's Fast and My Caravan. Bracciale won numerous stakes with Valiant Lark, including the Salvatore Mile (twice) and New Hampshire Sweepstakes.
Plasteras owns most of his horses in partnerships with friends, including Koluctoo Jimmy Al.
"He's the perfect partner to have," Levine said, "because everything he touches turns to gold."
Levine sold Plasteras Koluctfully in 1990.
"She was a useful, hard-knocking claimer and the best-looking Koluctoo Bay filly we ever had," Levine said. "I had bred her to Cormorant. But I had a few other mares, and the board bills were eating me up. So I sold her to Basil for $2,500."
L Koluctfully aborted the Cormorant foal early in spring 1990.
"I still had time to bred her back," Plasteras said. "Instead of going back to Cormorant, I bred her to another New York stallion, Jacques Who. I bought the season for $500 from a guy who worked on the starting gate at the New York tracks."
But when Koluctoo Jimmy Al was four months old, his dam died of colic.
"That's when I called up Jimbo and asked him if he'd board the weanling for me," Plasteras said.
Bracciale remembers the colt was skinny, "and every time I talked to Basil, I'd tell him: 'This horse is just not doing good.' "
Bracciale had the horse at first at his Five Sisters Farm in Woodstock,and then transferred him with the rest of his stock to Donald Reuwer's Pleasant Prospect Farm in Glenelg after Bracciale subdivided Five Sisters into building lots.
In addition to being skinny and gawky, the horse was a nervous wreck when he first arrived at the track.
"I remember when the horse first got to Monmouth Park and stayed there a month before he came to me at Aqueduct," Levine said. "Basil saw him and said: 'I pray the van man made a mistake and mixed up the horses.' "
But Levine, who has made his reputation dealing with fretting fillies, settled down the skittish gelding.
The horse turned the corner this winter, when he was stretched out to two turns and then won the Cahill Road Stakes on April 17, running 9 furlongs in 1 minute, 48 seconds, faster than Storm Tower's time a couple of races later in the Wood Memorial.
That's when Levine started thinking Preakness, disregarding the Derby, although Churchill Downs officials contacted him and said a spot was open in the bulky field.
"Basically, this is Bruce's gig," Plasteras said. "He's the most conservative trainer I've ever had. So when he said, 'The horse has moved forward. Let's run,' we shipped to Pimlico."
L Plasteras lined up Chris McCarron to ride Koluctoo Jimmy Al.
But, first, he called Bracciale and said, "Can you get down to 126 pounds?"
Bracciale, who weighs 130, hasn't ridden in three years.
"The weight isn't problem," Bracciale said. "But, you know, there's a little more to it than that."
Horses expected for the 118th running of the Preakness on Saturday at Pimlico. Post time 5:32 p.m. TV: ESPN, 3:30-4:30 p.m.; chs. 13, 7, 4:30-6 p.m.
Horse.. .. ... .. .. .. .. .. Jockey
Sea Hero.. .. .. ... .. .. .. . Jerry Bailey
Prairie Bayou.. .. .. .. .. .. Mike Smith
Personal Hope .. .. .. .. .. .. Gary Stevens
Koluctoo .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Chris
Jimmy Al .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .McCarron
Union City .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Pat Valenzuela
Cherokee Run .. .. .. .. .. .. Pat Day
Woods .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Rick Wilson
Wild Gale.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Shane Sellers
Rockamundo .. .. .. .. .. .. .. No rider
El Bakan .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .Craig Perret
Too Wild .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Robbie Davis