06/26/2002 11:00PM

Buyers' loss, Hancock's gain


ELMONT, N.Y. - Nobody liked her at the Keeneland September sales. She was big and growthy but not unattractive, and her reserve of $35,000 was modest enough. But she failed to excite prospective bidders and her breeder, Arthur Hancock of Stone Farm, took her home on a bid of $15,000.

The next morning, Hancock related the story to New Orleans sportsman Jimmy Stone.

"Do you want to race her?" asked Stone, a partner with Hancock in Menifee and other horses. "If you like her, that's good enough for me."

Doing business as Chamrousse, the filly won her first two starts. She was moved up to stakes company, which might have been beyond her at the time, but she made progress, ran well at Oaklawn Park this spring, and then won the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico last month. Her ample frame is beginning to fill out and she will be one of the favorites at Belmont Park Saturday in a small field for the $250,000 Mother Goose Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

"We weren't planning to run in the Mother Goose," trainer Niall O'Callaghan said. "But when some of the major fillies dropped out for various reasons, we took another look at the situation. She's run well from the beginning. We may have thrown her in the deep end in New Orleans, when she was up against Take Charge Lady, but she's never been worse than third in any of her races and she appears to be moving in the right direction."

With a current value many times larger than the $35,000 price tag she carried at the Keeneland sales, Chamrousse could position herself smartly in the Mother Goose for the July 20 running of the $350,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, the country's most important feature for her division. O'Callaghan, who is enjoying an exceptional season, upset the CCA Oaks in 1999 with On a Soapbox. He knows what it takes to win.

So does Hancock, who is elated over a convincing victory at Belmont Wednesday by Quest, a 3-year-old colt by Seeking the Gold he races in partnership with Gerald Healy of Lexington, Ky., owner of several McDonald's restaurants in central Kentucky. Quest, unraced at 2, has won 3 of 5 starts and trainer Nick Zito said he is considering Quest for the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 4. Quest's latest triumph was achieved over Thunder Blitz, who last year won the Flamingo at Hialeah and finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

Hancock and Healy raced a Spectacular Bid filly named Starlore who placed in stakes and earned some $225,000. Bred to Seeking the Gold, she produced a colt who looked a picture and was entered in the Keeneland select sale.

"About 10 days before the sale," Hancock said, "the Seeking the Gold colt - Quest - developed a little bump several inches above a knee. Each day the bump got bigger and we consided removing it surgically. The stitches would have marred his appearance, however. The colt was grazing and being petted by my son Arthur when he noticed something and called on the intercom. When we got there, we found the colt had lost his two front teeth."

There would be no sale for the Seeking the Gold colt. Hancock attended the grueling 10-day session and then had another look. He found no sign of the growth on the knee. As for the missing teeth, they had grown back.

"The missing teeth were apparently baby teeth or caps and it was natural for them to grow back," Hancock said. "As for the growth, it just fell off and never reappeared. We decided to race the colt. All the signs pointed in that direction."