06/14/2007 11:00PM

Bittersweet again gets top yearling show prize

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Participating in the Maryland Horse Breeders Association's annual show for Maryland-bred yearlings can prove valuable in many ways. Pat Konka knows this first-hand.

For the second year in a row, a product of Bittersweet Farm - the Westminster, Md., establishment owned by Konka and his wife Maureen Johnson - rewarded the breeders with the $13,000 top award from the yearling show purse premium.

The total 2006 premium of $40,000 was divided eight ways among the show participants who earned the most money at racetracks in North America at 2 and 3.

The Bittersweet Farm-bred filly Les Ry Leigh, who won Laurel's Twixt Stakes and ran third in the Anne Arundel Stakes last year at 3, earned $136,784 in 2006 to rank first. In 2005, another stakes-winning filly bred by Bittersweet Farm, Thatswhatimean, earned a nearly identical $136,325, which was also enough to win the top prize.

"It's really nice to win something like that," said Konka, pointing out that it's especially rewarding since the windfall comes long after the fillies had been sold.

The MHBA yearling show has gained a reputation as a solid training ground for young horses, especially for those heading to the upcoming yearling sales, a prime reason why Konka attends.

"The show is a good incentive to get started for sales prep," he said. "I like the fact the yearlings get off the farm, get around a crowd of people, see strange things . . . It's a great lesson. By the time they go to the sale, they've already been exposed to much of what they'll experience at the sale."

Konka and Johnson sold Thatswhatimean, a daughter of Belong to Me and a half-sister to Atswhatimtalknbout, for $375,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale. The following year Les Ry Leigh was sent to the same sale, but she had been diagnosed with OCD (osteochondritis dissecans, an orthopedic disease that also afflicted Preakness winner Curlin as a weanling), which turned off many potential buyers. Michael Pressley purchased the filly for $12,000 and sent her to Larry Jones to train. Given time to develop, the filly didn't make her first start until January 2006, then finished third or better in seven of her 11 starts.

In addition to earning purse premium checks, yearlings exhibited by Konka and Johnson have won or placed in a number of classes. Total prizes given out for placements at the show each year add up to more than $10,000. In 2003, Bittersweet Farm took first place in two classes, with Thatswhatimean and Icarus, a half-brother to Les Ry Leigh. In 2005, a Two Punch filly out of Smart Erin, bred in partnership with Mason Grasty, was the show's reserve champion. Sold at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July yearling sale for $140,000, the Two Punch filly was resold as a 2-year-old for $380,000. Konka thought she presented his best chance to earn a premium award, but unfortunately the filly died last year before making her first start.

Konka will bring three yearlings to this year's 73rd annual show.

"There are often buyers in the audience, and it lets you show them what you have," Konka said.

A total of 106 yearlings have been entered in six classes, which will be held at the horse show ring at the Timonium Fairgrounds on June 24. Tom Albertrani, trainer of last year's champion 3-year-old and Preakness winner, Bernardini, is this year's judge.

Nearly 50 sires are represented by entries, including horses from the first crops of Maryland sires Bowman's Band, Domestic Dispute, and Great Notion. The sire with the most entries is Not for Love, with 10 (six colts, four fillies).

Seven additional purse premium awards were presented for runners competing in 2006.

For yearlings shown in 2004, based on 3-year-old earnings:

$4,000 award - Celestial Legend (filly, City Zip-Lunar's Legend, by Polish Numbers), earned $114,370, shown by William T. Fitzgibbons and David H. Wade.

$2,000 award - Two Terms (colt, Two Punch-Tenacious Terms, by Private Terms), earned $93,400, shown by Dark Hollow Farm.

$1,000 award - Henry Street (colt, Old Trieste-Streets of Rio, by Carnivalay), earned $88,120, shown by Robert T. Manfuso.

For yearlings shown in 2005, based on 2-year-old earnings of 2006:

$13,000 award - Spectacular Malibu (filly, Malibu Moon-Spectacular You, by Spectacular Bid), earned $122,490, shown by Country Life Farm.

$4,000 award - Expected Pleasures (filly, Allen's Prospect-Glowing Honor, by Honour and Glory), earned $75,590, shown by Skeedattle Associates.

$2,000 award - Gaming Fool (colt, Crafty Friend-Corrairy, by Corridor Key), earned $33,720, shown by Donald K. Dean.

$1,000 award -Jogging Partner (filly, Partner's Hero-Why Walk, by Zilzal), earned $22,350, shown by William L.S. Landes III.