05/28/2003 11:00PM

Breeders' faith in Aldebaran pays off

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The status of the Metropolitan Mile is very high as a critical test of racing ability, and also it is a benchmark as a proving ground for stallion prospects. The rationale for the Met Mile's prestige is the stud success of previous winners such as Fappiano, Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Buckpasser, In Reality, and Nodouble. There is the inference that horses able to win this race make significantly better-than-average stallion prospects, and breeders following this line of thought also can point to the results from contemporary stallions who won this race, such as Gulch (a two-time winner), Holy Bull, and In Excess.

Thus, Aldebaran's victory in the Metropolitan means more than a second Grade 1 success that pushes his career earnings past $1.4 million. It puts the horse and his owners in a much stronger position when Aldebaran retires to stud at Darby Dan Farm for next year's breeding season.

A group of breeders had secured the breeding rights to Aldebaran late last spring, and John Phillips, managing partner in Darby Dan and one of the participants in the deal, said that "we were looking for a real cornerstone stallion from the Mr. Prospector line. And at the time we acquired him, he really wasn't on the radar screen" for high-level farms. At that time, Aldebaran was only a stakes winner, but he had run very well in top-level events, including a second in last year's Met Mile.

Phillips said that "Darby Dan came into the discussions through our contacts with Barry Weisbord, Peter Bradley, and Richard Santulli, and in hindsight I can say that it was brilliance to acquire the breeding rights to the horse, but I honestly can't say that it was my brilliance."

Truly, the group of breeders was taking a gamble on Aldebaran. The investors in the horse thought that he was better than his race record reflected, and as Barry Weisbord said, "This was one of those percentage plays where you thought the horse was fast enough, and if he caught a break or two, he would really take off."

After the purchase, Aldebaran ran second three times in Grade 1 company, and at year's end, the owners of the horse decided to give him another year of racing rather than send him to stud. Weisbord said, "We thought that Aldebaran ran into four horses who came up with lifetime performances against him, and as it turns out, the decision to keep him in training has come right in every way."

Phillips said that the decision to "keep the horse in training came about because the Darby Dan group and the Flaxman group were thinking nearly the same thing at the same time, and that idea carried through."

Bred in Kentucky by the Niarchos family's Flaxman Holdings, Aldebaran has a pedigree of immense distinction. He is one of the last high-class sons of Mr. Prospector and is out of Group 1 winner Chimes of Freedom, who was the highweighted 3-year-old filly in Europe at a mile in 1990.

By Private Account (also the sire of champion and top-class producer Personal Ensign), Chimes of Freedom is one of three stakes winners out of the Northfields mare Aviance. The mare's other produce includes graded winner Denon, as well as the mare Imperfect Circle, who produced Spinning World, winner of the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Breeders' Cup Mile.

Aviance herself is a stakes winner at the Group 1 level in Ireland, where she too was a highweighted filly at 3. She is unquestionably the best racer by her dam, the Sir Ivor mare Minnie Hauk. Minnie Hauk is one of six stakes horses out of the landmark mare Best in Show.

A good-class filly who won five races, including the Prioress Stakes, Best in Show was by Traffic Judge out of Stolen Hour, by Mr. Busher. (Mr. Busher was a son of Seabiscuit's rival, Triple Crown winner War Admiral, and was a full brother to Horse of the Year Busher.)

Solid as her racing form was, Best in Show far surpassed it when she went to stud. Four of her foals won stakes, and the best of these were Malinowski (by Sir Ivor) and Blush With Pride (by Blushing Groom). Highweighted at 2, Malinowski won the Craven Stakes at 3; at that age, his half-sister Blush With Pride showed her best form to win the Kentucky Oaks, as well as the Santa Susana and Ashland stakes.

In keeping with a family that produces plenty of high-class fillies, several of Best in Show's daughters became important producers. Her first foal, the unraced Buckpasser mare Sex Appeal, produced two champions in El Gran Senor and Try My Best. Stakes winner Monroe produced European highweight Xaar; unraced Nijinsky's Best produced Grade 1 winner Yagli; and Blush With Pride has produced three stakes winners.

Simply put, this is one of the best and most consistent producing families in the Stud Book, and Chimes of Freedom has not let the family down.

The Niarchos family mares in the U.S. are lodged at the Lane's End Farm/Oak Tree division. There Chimes of Freedom has foaled four stakes winners: Grade 1 winners Good Journey and Aldebaran, the Grade 3 winner Sea of Showers, and the A.P. Indy mare Tomisue's Indy.

The produce record for Chimes of Freedom over the past few years, however, is a stark reminder about the uncertainties of the breeding business. The mare did not produce a foal from 2000 through 2002, which include the worst years of the mare reproductive loss syndrome, but Chimes of Freedom foaled a colt by Kingmambo on February 7 this year who is very highly regarded, and she is back in foal to A.P. Indy on a March 5 cover.