04/03/2008 11:00PM

Couple glad they kept Mints First Star

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The first one got away. But the second stakes winner bred by Robin and Ted Stepanoff is all theirs. And the 5-year-old mare Jet Away Jane, a second-generation homebred, has been soaring.

Jet Away Jane won her second straight stakes this year when she captured the 6o1/2-furlong Langhorne against open company at Philadelphia Park on Marcho25. An ultra-consistent Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Unbridled Jet, Jet Away Jane upped her earnings to $338,397, and has finished in the top three in 22 of her 24 starts. Over the course of her three-year career, she has won or placed in six stakes.

Jet Away Jane's first stakes win came in the Russian Rhythm Handicap for Pennsylvania-bred fillies last June. In her first start this year, she turned in a gritty performance to take the six-furlong Foxy J.G. Stakes, also for statebreds, by a neck over S W Aly'svalentine.

"She used to like to go long," said Robin Stepanoff of Jet Away Jane. "But she is getting faster as she is getting older."

Jet Away Jane, trained by Philadelphia Park-based Thomas Miller, is being pointed to the $250,000 My Juliet Stakes at six furlongs on May 24 at her home track.

The Stepanoffs, who have five runners at the track and race in the name of Golden Oak Farm, got their start in the breeding business when Robin Stepanoff visited a neighbor, longtime Pennsylvania breeder Paul Labe, in 1991. She came home that day to tell her husband that they were the new owners of a broodmare.

Costing a bargain $1,500, Ack's First Step (by an unraced son of Ack Ack named Ack Kerala) had already produced three foals, the oldest a 2-year-old, when the Stepanoffs took her home to their 40-acre farm in Oley, Pa., near Reading. The mare was in foal, to Labe's stallion Beyond the Mint, and the following spring produced a filly named Mints First Star.

"All we wanted to do was breed to sell," Stepanoff said.

But being so green in the business, the couple didn't understand the complexities of the sales market and found that their modestly bred foal wouldn't be in high demand.

"So we realized we were just going to have to race her," Stepanoff said.

Mints First Star proved a tough campaigner, winning 8 of 53 starts over four seasons and $102,024. And that was just the tip of the iceberg for Ack's First Step. The mare produced six foals for the Stepanoffs, and the five who raced were all winners. Her best runner came in 1998, when she dropped a Waquoit colt named Freon Flier.

One of the few yearlings sold by the Stepanoffs - he went for $6,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall yearling sale - Freon Flier became the first stakes winner bred by the couple. A winner of two stakes at 3, including the $103,800 Michael G. Schaefer Mile at Hoosier Park, and stakes-placed at 5, Freon Flier earned $274,062 and still holds the track record for one mile at Delta Downs. He began his career as a stallion in Pennsylvania in 2004, but now stands at Traders Rest Farm in Louisiana.

Freon Flier added black type to the family, but unfortunately didn't race in Pennsylvania, so the Stepanoffs didn't reap any rewards. But their first runner, Mints First Star, has become a gold mine.

Jet Away Jane is the first stakes horse for Mints First Star, but the mare is a 100 percent producer. Mints First Star has three older foals of racing age, all winners, including $136,976-earner Don'takememints. Her first foal, 8-year-old Holy Moly Oley (a daughter of Storm Broker who earned $63,115) is one of four mares in the Stepanoffs' broodmare band.

"It was a fluke when we sent Mints First Star to Unbridled Jet," said Stepanoff, who had intended to breed another mare to the stallion, in whom they owned a half-share at the time.

With Jet Away Jane the result, the Stepanoffs returned Mints First Star to Unbridled Jet, and her current 2-year-old, still owned by the Stepanoffs, is a full brother to the stakes winner named Jet Outa My Way.

Preferring to let their young runners develop, Stepanoff noted that the colt - whom they are very high on - won't race at 2, but will soon begin preparing for a 3-year-old campaign.

"We never race our 2-year-olds," Stepanoff said. "We don't like to pressure them. We want them to be in for the long run."

Mints First Star has a yearling colt by Louis Quatorze, and wasn't bred for 2008 due to a late foaling. She returned this year to Unbridled Jet, a former Maryland sire who now stands at the Sleeter family's Sleeter Farm in Clementon, N.J.

The mare who started it all, Ack's First Step, is now 24 and resides as a pensioner at Golden Oak Farm.