03/05/2003 12:00AM

Calumet has another runner


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The letters still arrive.

It has been more than 10 years since Henryk de Kwiatkowski stepped up and bought Calumet Farm for $17 million dollars, saving America's best-known horse farm from the developers.

Calumet's location in Lexington, Ky., is partially responsible for its celebrity. It is situated on the heavily traveled Versailles Road, near the airport and Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland attracts thousands of visitors each year, for the race meetings and the sales. Most of them must drive past Calumet to reach their destination, and what they see is a glittering jewel.

From the glory days of Ben and Jimmy Jones, when Kentucky Derby victories were expected of the farm's devil's red and blue silks, Calumet has been maintained in showcase resplendence, the fences and the barns gleaming under fresh coats of paint and the undulating paddocks a sea of sparkling bluegrass.

De Kwiatkowski was aware of this tradition and vowed to continue it. He kept his word, earning him the thanks of racing fans from all parts of the country and from overseas as well. De Kwiatkowski had hoped to resurrect the farm's glory as well, but he did not have much luck until he went to the Saratoga sales of 2001 and paid $475,000 for a colt by Touch Gold.

Region of Merit showed some promise in a brief 2-year-old campaign, but made significant progress after he arrived in Florida for the winter season. He was particularly impressive last month, posting a five-length victory at a mile and 70 yards, his first attempt to stay a distance of ground.

"We think we may have a nice colt," de Kwiatkowski said from his winter quarters in Nassau, Bahamas. "The next step is a stake to find out more about him. He is being pointed for the Tampa Bay Derby March 16. If he handles that assignment then we can make plans. I've got a good feeling about him because I bought him at Saratoga. I bought Danzig at Saratoga and also bought Conquistador Cielo there. They've been my best horses."

Danzig won his first three starts in sensational fashion, then went wrong and was retired to stud. He was syndicated and became a champion sire. Conquistador Cielo, Horse of the Year in 1982, won the Metropolitan Mile on a Monday by more than seven lengths in a sizzling 1:33.60. Five days later he won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes by 14 lengths.

Conquistador Cielo, syndicated for $36 million, was known for spectacular ways. So is his owner, who escaped his native Poland when it was invaded by the Germans and Russians. He made his way to England and flew combat missions with the Royal Air Force's Polish squadron. He came to the United States after the war, worked for prominent aeronautical firms, and then started his own business, converting military planes for civilian use and vice versa.

He came into racing in the 1970's with Woody Stephens as his trainer and enjoyed considerable success with such horses as De La Rose, Sabin, Danzig Connection, Stephan's Odyssey, and Lotka. He was also a skilled polo player for years at Saratoga, Palm Beach, and other sporting locales. He played with the same flair he brought to racing.