08/31/2006 11:00PM

At 3, Henny Hughes living up to his hype

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - With his dominating victory in the Grade 1 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga, Henny Hughes has proven himself the speed leader among the 3-year-olds and the top challenger to the older horses for the overall sprint championship this year.

The older racers, such as Silver Train and Commentator, will need all their natural ability and tenacity, because Henny Hughes has them in his sights.

After two impressive starts as a 3-year-old, Henny Hughes has answered every question left from his juvenile campaign. Following a brief stay in Dubai, he came back to racing in even better form this year, winning the Grade 3 Jersey Shore at Monmouth in his season debut and the King's Bishop after finishing second at the Grade 1 level three times last year.

Co-breeder Rob Whiteley said: "I was absolutely thrilled when I ran into Kiaran McLaughlin in the lounge at JFK [airport] on my way to Dubai this spring, and he expressed his pleasure that he was due to get Henny Hughes in his barn in another week, and I was equally thrilled when I watched the colt's performance at Monmouth, where he appeared as a bigger, stronger, and faster version of his 2-year-old self."

Henny Hughes is the first American stakes winner for Sheikh Rashid's Zabeel Racing International. Sheikh Rashid is the oldest son of Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed, whose Godolphin Racing has a vast string of racehorses and whose Darley Stud Management has large-scale breeding operations around the globe.

After being purchased privately last year, Henny Hughes was sent to McLaughlin and could have been a candidate for the Triple Crown events. He was kept out of racing for eight months after the Breeders' Cup, however, and missed the Triple Crown. Henny Hughes was shipped to Dubai, where a couple of trainer changes kept him in limbo until McLaughlin arrived in Dubai for the World Cup.

"Henny Hughes had put on weight and looked like he was doing really well," said McLaughlin. "So I said if they were planning to send Henny Hughes back to the States that I'd love to train him. I was really fortunate, because they did, and we decided to keep him going short. We backed up from the Breeders' Cup Sprint to the Vosburgh, then backed up six weeks from the Vosburgh to the King's Bishop."

Always a handsome colt, Henny Hughes has matched his performances on the racetrack with blooming physical condition. Even to McLaughlin's discerning eye, Henny Hughes has "filled out into a beautiful horse and put on more than 100 pounds."

Henny Hughes was bred in Kentucky by Whiteley, in the name of his Liberation Farm, in co-ownership with the Trackside Farm of Tom Evans and Pam Clark, and CHO Ltd.

Selling out of the Trackside Farm consignment at the 2004 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July select yearling sale, Henny Hughes brought $180,000 from Lance Robinson's Gulf Coast Farms Bloodstock.

There have always been great prospects for Henny Hughes. He appeared quick and precocious as a yearling, and he descends from a speedy family with the capacity to race up to a mile or so.

By Hennessy and out of Meadow Flyer (by Meadowlake), Henny Hughes "is a triumph of breeding a sire and mare based on their physical characteristics," Whiteley said. "Meadow Flyer is a big, strong, well-made, and typical Meadowlake, and many Meadowlakes have had a lot of talent but are predisposed to unsoundness due to their size and substance."

Meadowlake himself stood 17 hands and was built like a war horse. He had massive bone, an immense girth, and the hindquarters needed to propel his big body around the racetrack at high speed. A horse with talent in proportion to his size, Meadowlake was unbeaten in his three starts at 2 and 3, winning the Grade 1 Arlington-Washington Futurity, as well as a maiden special and an allowance.

Inability to remain sound propelled Meadowlake into his second career as a stallion, and he was an immediate success, siring robust, good-looking horses with speed, including champion Meadow Star.

Meadow Flyer inherited her fair share of both speed and size, earning black type in her second and last start with a second-place finish in the Pasadena Stakes.

As a producer, Meadow Flyer has foaled consistently good-looking foals with size that have sold for very good prices up to $375,000. In regard to size, Henny Hughes was one of the least like his dam, being no more than medium-sized, but still with great balance and athleticism.

Whiteley said that he had chosen Hennessy as Meadow Flyer's mate because Hennessy is "a medium-sized horse who is nonetheless quite lengthy, and he possessed the potential to scale down the bulk of Meadowlake that might have resulted from Meadow Flyer's foal. Every now and then, the result of a mating matches the ideal vision of the prospective foal when two individuals are blended together, and in Henny Hughes, we were lucky enough to breed a muscular yet medium-sized colt with talent."

Seven of Meadow Flyer's foals before Henny Hughes were winners, and after the appearance of an elite stakes winner in her produce, Meadow Flyer's weanling colt by Zavata sold to Shadwell Estate Co. for $240,000 at last year's Keeneland November sale. Meadow Flyer foaled a colt by Champali on Feb. 8.