04/29/2005 12:00AM

Desert Warrior's foals looking good

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Early returns for first-crop sire Desert Warrior, who stands at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, are making his connections happy.

"They are the best foals of any stallion I have ever stood," said Joe McMahon.

That is a sweeping statement from one of New York's most experienced breeders.

McMahon has handled dozens of stallions, including leaders such as Personal Flag, D'Accord, and Regal Classic, and currently stands eight sires at the family-owned farm near Saratoga Lake.

Desert Warrior, a 5-year-old son of Deputy Minister, is owned by McMahon and Raymond DeStefano, who played a role in the early success of former New York sire Belong to Me.

DeStefano and Lou Salerno, the former operator of Questroyal Farm, brought Belong to Me to the Empire State at the start of his stallion career in 1994.

From his early crops, Belong to Me sired Grade 1 winners Lucky Roberto and Circle of Life while standing in New York.

"Sires are important to me, and I always wanted to try and recapture that success," said DeStefano. "Desert Warrior had the pedigree and enough of a race record that we could afford him, but not so much of a race record that with his pedigree we could not afford him."

On the track, Desert Warrior won at Belmont, Saratoga, and Keeneland and hit the board twice in graded stakes while racing for Overbrook Farm and trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

In his maiden, he scored a hard-fought victory over subsequent Grade 1 winner Stroll after that rival headed him in midstretch.

Desert Warrior serviced 73 mares during his first season, getting 64 in foal.

He stands for a fee of $3,000, live foal.

Deputy Minister's successful sons at stud include Silver Deputy, the sire of champion Silverbulletday; Awesome Again, the sire of Horse of the Year Ghostzapper; Touch Gold, the sire of multiple Grade 1 winner Composure; and Dehere, the sire of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady.

"In my opinion, he is the premier sire-of-sires today," DeStefano said of Deputy Minister. "Genetically, Desert Warrior has the ability. It's up to Joe and me to manage that and get it out."

Desert Warrior is out of Najavo Pass, a daughter of Secretariat who is a full sister to the dam of the great sire Storm Cat. She is also a half-sister to leading international sire Royal Academy, winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile in 1990.

Wheelaway yearlings om block

DeStefano and McMahon are also excited about their stallion Wheelaway, whose first yearlings are headed for the auction ring this year.

A gray son of classic winner and classic sire Unbridled, Wheelaway won the Tampa Bay Derby and finished fifth to Fusaichi Pegasus in the Kentucky Derby for owners Caesar P. Kimmel and Philip Solondz. He was trained by John Kimmel.

In his first book, for 2003, Wheelaway covered 82 mares, getting 75 in foal. That number increased to 102 in 2004, with 96 getting in foal.

Wheelaway stands for a fee of $6,000, live foal.

'Pals' go for Sort It Out kin

Preferred Pals Stable is hoping that lightning strikes twice. The upstate New York group purchased a half-sister to their New York-bred open stakes winner Sort It Out last Tuesday.

They paid $95,000 for the daughter of Freud at the second session of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. spring sale of 2-year-olds in training, with trainer Allen Iwinski signing the ticket. Named Strong Presence, she is also a registered New York-bred.

"Allen said she is not a big filly, but well proportioned and one who moves well," said Larry Paltrowitz, managing partner for Preferred Pals. "Sort It Out was a lot leggier than her, but she is very correct. We are real excited about her, and since we had such good luck with Sort It Out, we figured to go for her."

After Sort It Out's win in the Whirlaway Stakes at Aqueduct on Feb. 12, Preferred Pals sold a majority interest in the colt to Stonerside Stable. He is a possible starter in the Kentucky Derby.

Corrections

The New York breeding column on April 24 misstated the average price paid for the 72 New York-bred horses auctioned at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s April 2004 sale. The average price was $33,146 - not $28,770 - which beat the overall sales average of $29,952.

Also, the April 24 column misstated the site of Prime Timber's retirement to stud. Prime Timber was retired to stud at Sez Who Thoroughbreds in Ocala, Fla. - not to Sez Who North in Stillwater, N.Y. He was moved to Stillwater for the 2004 season.