04/07/2005 11:00PM

On dam's strength, Derby prospect emerges

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Victory in the April 2 Florida Derby was the linchpin in making High Fly the morning-line favorite for the Kentucky Derby in the third round of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager. Depending on what happens in the Blue Grass and Santa Anita Derby, the chestnut colt might start as the race favorite at Churchill Downs.

If so, he would be the first Kentucky Derby favorite owned by Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud, which bred and races High Fly, a son of Atticus and the Slewpy mare Verbasle.

Live Oak purchased Verbasle at the November 2001 Keeneland breeding stock sale when she was carrying High Fly. Verbasle was bought on the recommendation of bloodstock adviser Michael Youngs, Weber said.

The sale price on Verbasle was $200,000, and she foaled High Fly in 2002 at Hidaway Farm in Kentucky, then was bred back to Giant's Causeway.

Raised in Florida at Live Oak, High Fly was one of several good yearlings at the farm. The farm's general manager, Eric Hamelback, said that "pedigree was key in the decision to purchase the mare, and at the time, Atticus was considered a promising young stallion, and good race records was a plus for anything we look at."

A daughter of Slewpy, Verbasle showed good form at 2 and 3. Although not a stakes winner, Verbasle was better than many a black-type winner.

At 2, Verbasle ran second in the Grade 1 Matron to champion Meadow Star, and at 3 ran third in a trio of stakes, including two Grade 3 races. A thoroughly useful racer, Verbasle earned $250,801.

The mare turned out to be just as genuine as a producer as she had been on the racetrack. Before High Fly, Verbasle produced two stakes winners by a Horse of the Year, Holy Bull. The first of these was juvenile stakes winner Smokey Mirage, Verbasle's third foal. Her fourth turned out to be Estimraar, a $350,000 yearling who is a group stakes winner in the United Arab Emirates.

Neither stakes winner seems to want to go much farther than a mile, and as Hamelback noted, "but distance limitation is a concern with Atticus in general," who himself was a high-class miler.

For the Derby, Hamelback said, "All of us will be running a mile and a quarter the first time, but I believe we have adequate stamina inserted in the pedigree through Verbasle."

In addition to her own racing ability, Verbasle is out of stakes winner Verbality, who is by Verbatim and is out of One Sum, a multiple graded stakes winner and a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winner Summing (by Verbatim).

While her son High Fly has been making the headlines this year, Verbasle foaled a Seeking a Gold colt in Florida and is being bred back to Distorted Humor. The sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, Distorted Humor also has classic prospect Flower Alley this year. Using Distorted Humor, a son of Forty Niner, also allows Live Oak further access to the Mr. Prospector line with Verbasle.

After producing the Florida Derby winner, Verbasle went to Giant's Causeway and has a 2-year-old colt named Giant Basil from the second crop of the European highweight. Hamelback said, "The 2-year-old is a May foal, still training and doing well on the farm, but no plans have been decided."

While the general reputation and valuation of Verbasle was increasing year to year as her offspring succeeded on the racetracks of the world, the alternate result befell Atticus, the sire of High Fly. The stallion has sired only four other stakes winners, none remotely as talented as High Fly.

A handsome and well-bred stallion, Atticus is by the excellent sire Nureyev and is out of the Secretariat mare Athyka. Bred and raced by the Wertheimer Brothers, Atticus was a Group 3 winner in France (and was second in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains - the French 2000 Guineas) and a Grade 1 winner of the Oaklawn Handicap in the States.

With his breeders' backing and high marks for ability from his racing record, Atticus went to stud at Three Chimneys Farm, where he received good-sized books of quality mares. His foals were attractive, generally well balanced, and with refinement and scope.

But not very many of them have run to their good looks, and such was the chilling commercial reception for Atticus and his stock that, near the end of 2004, the horse was sent to Magali Farms in California, where he now stands for $4,000.