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'Magic' turns corner; Alberts looks ahead

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Nancy Alberts walks Magic Weisner three times a day, about 15 minutes each time, around her shedrow at Laurel Park. Until the past couple of days, Magic Weisner, trying to recover from West Nile virus, still had trouble controlling his hind end and sort of dragged it along behind him.

"All of a sudden he's not dragging anything, except me," Alberts said. "He's bucking and squealing and striking out at the kitty cats. All of a sudden, he's feeling really good."

Alberts plans on starting to ride Magic Weisner around the barn any day now, and then, once he's comfortable with that, she plans on riding him on the track. If all goes well, she said, he might be able to start racing again before the end of the year.

"As good as he's doing, I don't think I'm going to have any problems - knock on wood," Alberts said.

After finishing second in the Preakness and winning the Ohio Derby, Magic Weisner contracted West Nile virus and spent nearly two weeks at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania. He returned to his stall at Laurel two weeks ago with a prognosis for a full recovery.

Alberts bred, owns and trains the 3-year-old gelding, who became a favorite with racing fans around the country. Alberts said Magic Weisner received more than 100 get-well cards with postmarks from all over the map. While at New Bolton, he received flowers and a teddy bear from well-wishers in Wichita, Kan.

Alberts' joy over Magic Weisner's recovery has been tempered by the death of her close friend, James P. Simpson. A trainer of thoroughbreds for nearly 60 years, Simpson died Sept. 16 at home in Winchester, Va., five days before his 83rd birthday.

Alberts worked three decades for Simpson and groomed his best horse, Cormorant. It was from Simpson that Alberts bought a crooked-legged filly named Jazema for $1. Alberts nurtured the filly, eventually raced her 68 times and then, upon her retirement, bred her to Ameri Valay and produced Magic Weisner.

Simpson's wife of 51 years, Nancy, said that he thoroughly enjoyed Alberts' success - by far the greatest of her career - with the rags-to-riches Magic Weisner. Nancy Simpson invited her husband's many Maryland friends to a "celebration of his life" beginning at 1 p.m., Oct. 8, at Millwood Country Club in Boyce, Va. She stressed the word "celebration." There was no funeral.

"He didn't like going to anybody else's," Mrs. Simpson said, "so I knew he wouldn't want to go to his own."

Heat tries Sprint, auction

John Salzman, trainer and part-owner of Xtra Heat, has firmed up plans for the 4-year-old filly. Xtra Heat will race Saturday in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Sprint against males at Keeneland in her final tuneup for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Xtra Heat has never won a race against males.

Then, she will go through the auction ring Nov. 6 or 7 at the Fasig-Tipton mixed sale in Lexington, Ky. If a bid surpasses her reserve of $2.2 million, she will be sold. If one doesn't, Salzman and his partners will continue racing her with an eye toward the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, the world's richest race, in March in the Middle East. Xtra Heat finished third in that race last year.

It's up to Include

Include will get one more chance to earn his way into the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. With Mario Pino aboard, Include will race Friday in the Meadowlands Cup in New Jersey. Bud Delp, his trainer, said Include would have to win or run a "real bang-up race" to move on to the Breeders' Cup.

"There's no doubt in my mind he's going to run good," Delp said. "He's ready."

Burke joins stewards

John J. Burke III, 61, became Maryland's newest steward Sept. 18 when he assumed duties at Pimlico. Burke replaced John Heisler, who retired earlier this year.

Burke worked as a steward for 10 years at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire as well as clerk of scales and steward at Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts. He trained horses for a decade, beginning in 1975, at tracks up and down the East Coast.

Burke joined two former jockeys, Bill Passmore and Phil Grove, in Maryland's steward stand. Although Burke's experience around the racetrack - front and backside - is extensive, he said, laughing: "I've never been a jockey."

Quality at Timonium sale

Sarava, long-shot winner of the Belmont, graces the catalog cover of the Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale, which takes place tomorrow through Wednesday at the state fairgrounds in Timonium. Sarava is a 2000 graduate of the sale.

The catalog features 780 yearlings and has stirred interest among some of the nation's top buyers. Mason Grasty, executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic, said he's heard comments that this is the strongest catalog in the sale's history.

Grasty said that despite the doomsayers of Maryland racing and breeding, "the sales industry in Maryland is prospering. This will not be a regional-buyer base. It will be national, if not international."

Million postscripts

Final words on last weekend's Maryland Million:

Object Of Virtue, winner of the Maryland Million Lassie, represented the first stakes winner for her sire, Partner's Hero, who stands at Northview Stallion Station. The Lassie also reflected well upon JoAnn and David Hayden's Dark Hollow Farm in Upperco.

Dark Hollow bred Partner's Hero. The Lassie runner-up, Rachelle's Numbers, was foaled at Dark Hollow. And Dark Hollow bred Follow The Queen, the fourth-place finisher in the Lassie.

Foard Wilgis, a breeder and owner of Cherokee's Boy, winner of the Maryland Million Nursery, credited the crew at Summer Wind Farm in Libertytown, especially co-owner Laurie Calhoun, with transforming his foal with a "club foot" into a runner. "If it wasn't for her patience and care, I don't think this horse ever could have run," Wilgis said.

Since Wayne Bailey and Billy Campbell share a barn at Bowie, Bailey offered to transport Campbell's Fat Lady's Maestro to Pimlico along with his own Desert Hound.

They were both entered in the day's first race, the Maryland Million Starter Handicap.

Desert Hound, a 5-year-old son of Deerhound making his 24th start, raced fifth down the backstretch, when he pulled up. He had fractured his right knee and was euthanized.

Fat Lady's Maestro, a 7-year-old son of Polish Numbers making his 57th start, raced in second into the homestretch when he pulled up. He had fractured his left knee and was euthanized.

"We had high expectations going over there," Bailey said. "It was a solemn ride home."

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