08/25/2006 12:00AM

Citidancer begetting quality if not quantity

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Nearly a year has passed since Country Life Farm owners Josh and Mike Pons announced Citidancer's retirement from active stud duty. But the 19-year-old son of Dixieland Band is far from gone or forgotten. In fact, he is having one of the biggest years of his stud career, with promise of more to come.

Citidancer, a chestnut who has been one of Maryland's most prominent sires since his first crop debuted in 1994, is represented by five stakes winners in 2006, topped by his sons Park Avenue Ball and Cherokee's Boy.

ZWP Stable's Cherokee's Boy, the reigning Maryland-bred horse of the year, passed the $1 million mark in earnings this year and most recently won the West Virginia Governor's Cup at Mountaineer Park on Aug. 6.

Park Avenue Ball, campaigned by his breeder, Charles and Marianne Hesse's Char-Mari Stable, is a graded stakes winner for the third year in a row now at age 4, thanks to his victory in the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park on Aug. 19. The victory boosted Park Avenue Ball's career earnings to $931,600 from 17 starts. His next scheduled race is the Grade 2, $500,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 13.

Charles Hesse first became acquainted with Citidancer after visiting Country Life Farm when Unbridled Jet, owned in part by Marianne Hesse in the name of Double H Stable, was retired to stud.

Unwilling to breed their homebred mare Road to the Ball to the closely related Unbridled Jet, they spotted Citidancer. The Hesses and farm manager Josh Pons believed Road to the Ball, a daughter of Cahill Road, would cross well with Citidancer. Park Avenue Ball was the result.

Considered the best horse the Hesses have bred in 25 years in the business, Park Avenue Ball has raced exclusively in stakes company since winning his maiden at first asking at Monmouth Park.

As a broodmare sire, Citidancer is represented by three graded stakes winners this year whose combined earnings exceed $2.5 million. His Grade 1-winning daughters Urbane and Hookedonthefeelin are the dams of the talented handicap horse Suave and multiple Grade 1 winner Pussycat Doll, respectively.

Another Citdancer daughter, Willalady, is the dam of Flamethrowintexan, who led at every call to win Emerald Downs's Grade 3 Longacres Mile Handicap on Aug. 20.

Still a picture of health, and king of the stallion barn at Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md., Citidancer "gets babied," Pons said. But Citidancer's retirement last year was inevitable, based upon his declining fertility, a problem he battled throughout his breeding career.

In 2005, Citidancer covered 15 mares. Only two produced foals this year.

"We contacted the shareholders late last summer," said Pons," and gave them the option to redeem their shares."

The arrangement made with syndicate members was that in exchange for the shares Country Life Farm would take responsibility for the care of Citidancer for the remainder of his life.

The agreement includes an option for Country Life to breed a few of its own mares to the stallion if so desired.

"It's not for the faint of heart," said Pons, noting that the odds are greater for missing a year than getting a foal when breeding to Citidancer. But Country Life Farm has a few mares that are close relatives to the best runners Citidancer has produced, and with them, it's considered worth the risk.

This year, Citidancer covered five mares, two of whom conceived.

"One mare was bred 12 times and didn't get in foal," said Pons, who added that the five mares were bred an average of six times to Citidancer this year.

The two mares currently in foal to him - stakes winner Conradley and graded stakes producer Eastern Connection - were each covered in February.

"Over his career, there was a slight pattern that mares bred early in the season got in foal," Pons said.

Two of the mares who missed, Richard's Lass and Hookedonjoy, are expected to be bred to the stallion early next year.

The majority of the mares the Ponses have bred to Citidancer are daughters of the farm's longtime leading sire, Allen's Prospect - a cross that produced Hookedonthefeelin.

Conradley and Richard's Lass are Allen's Prospect mares, as is Hookedonjoy, a full sister to stakes winner Prospective Joy, the dam of Hookedonthefeelin.

Citidancer has sired a total of 339 named foals in 13 crops, with 84 percent winners from starters (226 of 270) and 21 percent stakes horses.

Had Citidancer been able to sire more foals, as Pons said, "He would have been off the charts and standing in Kentucky."