11/07/2002 1:00AM

Bless: Latest from a heady mating


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Bless walked into the sales ring at the Keeneland November sale on Tuesday, there was no more question about her than there was about her brother Fusaichi Pegasus when he stood in the same ring at the Keeneland July select yearling sale in 1998. Bred and raised by Arthur Hancock and Stonerside Stable and quartered in the same Keeneland stall that her older brother had used, Bless brought the identical sum, $4 million, as a broodmare that Fusaichi Pegasus sold for as a yearling.

Both were the highest prices of their sales. A big, upstanding young mare, Bless is in foal to Storm Cat on an April 13 cover. She was meant to be a serious racehorse as well, according to co-breeder Arthur Hancock, but "she didn't race because she broke a knee when she was in the pasture as a yearling. It healed all right, but the vet said it would either bother her or it wouldn't when she went to racing. We tried to train her, but it did bother her."

Their dam, the Danzig mare Angel Fever, had a brief career, winning her debut and running second in the Colleen Stakes before an injury sent her to the paddocks. But as a full sister to Preakness winner Pine Bluff and a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Demons Begone, Angel Fever was a very serious broodmare prospect.

When Angel Fever came to the sales as part of the Loblolly dispersal, Hancock joined with Robert and Janice McNair of Stonerside Stable to acquire her. Hancock recalled that "the bidding had stalled at $500,000, and that was my limit. But I was sitting with Bob McNair, and he leaned over and said, 'Hit her again. If she's worth $500,000, she's worth $25,000 more.' I bid once more, and we got her."

That bid was the beginning of a fabulous success story for Stonerside and Hancock. Angel Fever produced four consecutive foals by Mr. Prospector for the partners, beginning with the filly Blissful in 1996. They sold Blissful for $1 million, followed by Fusaichi Pegasus at $4 million the following year. The mare's next foal was another Mr. Prospector colt and he sold to Coolmore for $1 million in 1998, but he died in a paddock accident. Bless is the last of the quartet, and she rounded out the partnership's proceeds from Angel Fever's four Mr. Prospectors at an even $10 million.

Although only one of the four became a stakes winner (25 percent is an excellent proportion, however), it was the quality rather than the quantity that made Angel Fever and her offspring so irresistible to buyers and breeders. And the key was Fusaichi Pegasus.

A big, strong bay, Fusaichi Pegasus was a presence to be reckoned with from the beginning. He was an extraordinary yearling, and the handsome colt brought $4 million. With a dominating victory in the Kentucky Derby two years later, Fusaichi Pegasus set the seal of continuing excellence on his family, and he was sold as a stallion prospect for more than $60 million.

His economic influence on the rest of his family can be seen in the fact that both his sisters have sold at the broodmare auction in November and brought identical sums of $4 million. At the Keeneland November sale in 2000, Bob and Beverly Lewis sold the Derby winner's year-older full sister, Blissful, in foal to Deputy Minister, and John Magnier was the buyer. The other full sister is the 3-year-old Bless, who brought $4 million from ClassicStar this week.

Hancock said, "Blissful was blockier and more typical of Mr. Prospector, whereas Bless is more like her dam, maybe even a little bigger."

The 3-year-old Bless was the youngest of the top broodmares selling at Keeneland this week, and even after a decade of production, she will still be only 13. That consideration, added to her pedigree and physique, made her all the more attractive to buyers.

Standing about 16.1 hands, Bless is a strong mare with good length through the body. She has more bone and substance than average, and this adds to her presence. She is alert and shows intelligence in her expression. Bless carries her head high, and this, along with her calm manner, makes her seem dignified. When being shown at the sale, Bless had the reserve and self-possession that horsemen are pleased to find in really good horses.

Hancock said, "She had never been to Keeneland, but she came in just as calm as anything. She didn't let anything bother her, and the buyers have gotten themselves an outstanding young mare. She's been a blessing to us all."

The 12-year-old Angel Fever has a yearling filly by Unbridled that Hancock and Stonerside have retained, and the mare is in foal to Seeking the Gold.