08/05/2004 11:00PM

Choctaw Nation's style different from dad's


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Choctaw Nation won Sunday's San Diego Handicap at Del Mar over Pleasantly Perfect and is a contender for the upcoming Pacific Classic. A bay 4-year-old, Choctaw Nation is one of a handful of horses annually bred by Dr. Gordon Layton, who owns Loch Lea Farm outside Paris, Ky.

"We get anywhere from seven to 10 foals a year," Layton said. "But we run along fairly well. I can't complain. And we've had the opportunity to raise a lot of stakes winners for our boarders."

The best horses Loch Lea has raised for other breeders include English Derby winner Teenoso; Imperial Beauty, winner of the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp; and Cherry Hinton, who was the highweighted juvenile filly in England in 1977. The best the Laytons have bred in their own name is Bold 'n Determined, winner of the Spinster, CCA Oaks, Kentucky Oaks, Acorn, Fantasy, Apple Blossom, Maskette, and Oak Leaf. Choctaw Nation is the latest good horse from Loch Lea.

By Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, Choctaw Nation brought $35,000 at the 2001 Keeneland September yearling sale on a bid from trainer Bruce Headley. Unraced until this season, the 4-year-old gelding made his debut on Feb. 29 and was claimed by trainer Jeff Mullins for owner Robert Bone for $40,000. Choctaw Nation is unbeaten to date in five starts.

Although the mare's two older foals are winners, Choctaw Nation is the best racer so far from his dam, Melisma, who is a daughter of Well Decorated. Layton purchased the mare, carrying her first foal on a cover to Peaks and Valleys, for $87,000 at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale in 1997.

"I paid more for her than for any mare I had before," Layton said. "And I thought to myself afterward, 'What are you doing?' You see, I'm really a $20,000 to $30,000 yearling man. But she's been all right."

The breeder was interested in Melisma because "she was a hell of a good-looking mare. And at the time, I was kind of stupid about Well Decorated mares because I'd had some luck with them. Collected several."

Layton continued to have success with Well Decorated mares. Melisma's first foal brought $60,000 at the Keeneland September sale. Named Melisma's Valley, she has earned $173,739.

Choctaw Nation is the mare's third foal. Melisma went to Louis Quatorze in 1999, and Choctaw Nation is a member of the stallion's second crop.

Layton chose Louis Quatorze as a mate for Melisma for a straightforward reason.

"I finally figured out that Sovereign Dancer crossed really well with Well Decorated mares," he said, "and the only source of Sovereign Dancer was Louis Quatorze."

The cross of the Northern Dancer-line stallion Sovereign Dancer, or his son Louis Quatorze, with Well Decorated mares is a well-regarded nick. Layton said, "I look at pedigrees, and there are things I like and don't like. I like nicks." And this one certainly worked for Layton.

Overall, Layton was expecting a quicker, more precocious horse than Choctaw Nation. The expectation is quite reasonable considering the typical contribution of strength and speed from Well Decorated.

In addition to showing speed as a juvenile, however, Louis Quatorze could get nine and 10 furlongs quite well at the highest level. His son Choctaw Nation never shows speed early in a race; he falls back to last and comes with a big run in the stretch.

After Mullins had dropped the claim on Choctaw Nation and saw him do that in his debut, the trainer reportedly thought he had thrown away his owner's money. A few furlongs later, he was feeling better.

The San Diego was Choctaw Nation's stakes debut, and his success in that race makes him the best runner from his sire's second crop.

Louis Quatorze, also the sire of the good 3-year-old Second of June this year, went to stud at Ashford in 1998, and he moved to Murmur Farm in Maryland for the 2004 breeding season. Allen and Audrey Murray, owners of Murmur, purchased the Preakness winner and stand him for $6,000 live foal.

Also the sire of millionaire Repent, Louis Quatorze is an 11-year-old son of Sovereign Dancer and the On to Glory mare On to Royalty. An elegant and attractive stallion, Louis Quatorze is somewhat lightly made himself, and he tends to pass on a tendency toward more lightness and refinement than he shows.

In contrast, Choctaw Nation is a good-sized and good-looking gelding. He also seems to have more substance, perhaps inherited from his dam. Melisma has a 2-year-old colt by American Chance, and she has a Pure Prize colt of 2004. The mare is back in foal to Five Star Day on a March 24 cover.