03/07/2003 1:00AM

Bloodlines may not tell entire tale

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Great Notion, who won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by nine lengths on Saturday, is yet another stakes winner by the impressive young sire Elusive Quality. A son of Gone West, Elusive Quality was an exceptionally fast racer, and he set records at Gulfstream (a track record for seven furlongs in 1:20) and at Belmont (a world record for a mile in 1:31.60).

When Sheikh Mohammed retired Elusive Quality to stud, the horse went to Gainsborough Farm near Versailles, Ky. Elusive Quality's fee was $10,000, and there was heavy demand for the horse, especially in his first two seasons at stud. With a horse of such exceptional speed, breeders hoped to catch lightning in a bottle, and given the results of his first crop of racers, who are now 3, they got much more than they bargained for.

His first juveniles to race included a half-dozen stakes winners, making Elusive Quality the leading freshman sire in gross earnings until the disqualification of his son Elusive City from a pair of victories in England. Despite the DQ, breeders knew they had found something special, and the horse's stud fee has risen to $30,000 live foal.

The stallion has eight stakes winners from a first crop of 72 foals, and Great Notion is the latest to hit the headlines. A winner of three races from four starts, Great Notion was bred in Kentucky by Jayeff B Stable from the Dayjur mare Evening Primrose. Jayeff B sold Great Notion at the Keeneland November sale for $45,000, which was the highest price for a first-crop weanling by Elusive Quality, and then sold the mare, in foal to Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, for $100,000 last November.

In between, Great Notion sold again, going through the Keeneland September sale of 2001 for $82,000. The buyer was the Silverton Hills Farm of Tommy and Bonnie Hamilton. The Hamiltons farm is about 1,500 acres near Springfield, Ky., including about 200 acres in paddocks for horses and a mile turf training track.

Bonnie Hamilton said that "before we bought Great Notion, our adviser Tom Biederman dragged Tommy down to see this colt three times. Tom said, 'I just love this colt. You've gotta buy him.' We did, and he's the star."

Sold out of the Dromoland Farm consignment as a yearling, Great Notion "had been in a fight with a fence," Hamilton said, and "he had stitches from it." The colt was even shown at the barns with bandages on his hind legs.

A good-bodied colt with plenty of bone, Great Notion was medium-sized, strong, and appealing, with little to fault. The Hamiltons took him back to Silverton Hills and broke him there before sending Great Notion on to trainer Darrin Miller.

Hamilton said, "Darrin won't say anything about one of the horses unless he's really sure of it, and after having the colt in training enough to see if he had ability, he said, 'I think he's special, and his knees need time to mature.' So he came back to the farm, and I thought to myself that this can't be a Derby horse because he's too laid-back."

The colt went back to Miller around Labor Day last year and has grown into a powerful and well-balanced young athlete. From his four starts, the colt's only loss was by a nose to Champali in the Turfway Prevue. Champali came back to win the Battaglia Stakes at Turfway last weekend, showing gameness and good finishing power.

Great Notion showed his qualities in the Southwest, springing away from his rivals down the stretch to win by nine lengths. By a high-class sprinter-miler and out of a mare by a champion sprinter, Great Notion is a colt who has already been written off by some observers of the classic preps.

But there is more to the colt and his pedigree than a casual inspection might reveal. Elusive Quality created his own distance limitations. His idea of racing was to go as fast as he could for as far as he could, and neither his pedigree nor his physique suggests that Elusive Quality was limited in natural stamina.

In addition, Evening Primrose, the dam of Great Notion, is not a heavy sprinter-type, either. She is a high-quality and well-balanced mare bred by Foxfield and sold at the Keeneland July sale to Jayeff B. A half-sister to a Flamingo Stakes winner Talinum, Evening Primrose did not race, but she has passed on her physical quality and scope to Great Notion. At the 2002 Keeneland November sale, Keene Ridge Farm bought Evening Primrose. She is due to foal in late April and is booked back to Out of Place.

With a family of this quality behind him, the fundamental question for Great Notion as a classic candidate is not whether he can stay the distance but whether he has the talent when the chips are down.

At present, his Beyer Speed Figures are just a bit lower than the best of his competition: Kafwain, Badge of Silver, and Trust N Luck.

Hamilton takes hope from the colt's pedigree, noting that Elusive City, the horse she calls "the best Elusive Quality colt in Europe" is like Great Notion out of a Dayjur mare, "and they are the only two Dayjur mares that Elusive Quality covered in his first season at stud."

In addition, the Hamiltons are lucky. "Twenty years ago," Hamilton recalled, "Tommy said that he'd like to do three things: win the National Field Trials," a competition for hunting dogs, "the World Champion Saddlebred Show, which is held in Louisville, and the Kentucky Derby. We've won two."

Having a colt good enough to consider for the Derby is a victory in itself.