07/26/2001 11:00PM

Chestertown natives hit the big time


Chestertown, a centuries-old town nestled along the banks of the Chester River on Maryland's eastern shore, is not a place one would expect to be a hotbed of Thoroughbred breeding activity.

Yet Chestertown-area farms are credited with four stakes winners in the past month.

Touch Love, winner of the Grade 2 Schuylerville Stakes, was born at Charles and Cynthia McGinnes's Thornmar farm. Adjacent to Thornmar is Dance Forth Farm, owned by veterinarian Tom Bowman and his wife, Chris, and the birthplace of Amourette, Vanna Go, and Astrid, who together have won five stakes since June 23.

Astrid was out to add to that total this weekend in the Grade 2 Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks at Monmouth Park.

The accomplished trio was bred by the Bowmans and their longtime friend and partner Milton Higgins, whose previous successes include stakes winners Who Wouldn't and G. O'Keefe, each campaigned in Higgins's name. Higgins - who during his varied career has operated a Colorado ranch and helped his brother start a program that aids juvenile offenders - made the decision in recent years to cut back on his horse holdings. The three current stakes winners were all sold as yearlings.

Bringing the highest price was Amourette, a daughter of El Gran Senor out of the Sir Ivor mare Chase the Dream. Sold for $30,000 at the 1997 Keeneland September yearling sale, Amourette (who was bred by a partnership that also included Ashford Stud) now campaigns for the R Otto Stables of Richard Otto and is trained by former jockey Gregg McCarron.

Since last October, the now-5-year-old mare has registered four wins and three thirds in seven turf starts. Amourette scored her first added-money victory in the $40,000 Lady Baltimore Stakes on July 1 at Pimlico, then topped that in the $150,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial Breeders' Cup Stakes at Delaware Park on July 21, in which she led at every call in the 1 3/8-mile turf race to win by a length and pay $37 as the third-longest price in the field of nine.

Vanna Go, a first-time stakes winner at 6, was sold for $16,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale. By Private Terms out of the Deputy Minister mare Stanley's Girl, Vanna Go had placed in four stakes during her career before emerging as the queen of Charles Town this summer for owners Kelly Bailey and Valerie Figueras. Her first stakes victory came on June 9 in the Almost Heaven Stakes, and she followed that up by winning the Yellow Brick Road Handicap on June 23.

Vanna Go's third in a row came on July 22 in the HBPA Lady Di Stakes, part of Charles Town's Owner Day festivities.

The youngest of the trio is Astrid, a 3-year-old Concern filly. Purchased by Bobby and Leslie Hurley for $20,000 at the 1999 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale, Astrid was making her fifth career start in the Serena's Song Stakes at Monmouth on July 4, and she carried it off with aplomb, winning by nearly five lengths in her first attempt over a mile.

Higgins owns 10 mares in various partnerships with the Bowmans. Higgins's popular runners G. O'Keefe, a winner of four stakes, and graded winner Merengue are part of the group, as is Potomac Bend, who won three stakes in succession in 1999, including the Grade 3 Cicada. Both Merengue and Potomac Bend had Silver Charm foals in 2001.

Of the three recent stakes winners, only one - Astrid - is out of a mare still owned by Bowman and Higgins. Asrid's dam, the 8-year-old Smarten mare Mescalina, in whom Tom Sutton also owns an interest, produced Astrid as her first foal. She has a Polish Numbers yearling filly, scheduled to be sold by the partners at this fall1s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale, and a Not for Love weanling colt. Mescalina is currently in foal to Silver Charm.