12/07/2007 1:00AM

Division leader emerges among Maryland-breds

EmailIt has been a slow year for Maryland-bred 3-year-old males. But as the season draws to an end, a runner from that division is coming on strong.

Steve's Double got his third win - and second stakes victory - in a row, prevailing by three-quarters of a length in the $60,000 Tenacious Handicap last Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Facing older rivals for the first time, he toted high weight of 118 pounds, giving four pounds to the runner-up, 8-5 favorite Crossword, and completing the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.74. It was the first time he had been tested beyond a mile.

Steve's Double's win streak sparkles with class. It began with an entry-level allowance score on Sept. 3 at Saratoga. Then trainer Ronny Werner stepped him up considerably at Keeneland, where he made headlines with his stakes debut in the Grade 3, $200,000 Perryville Stakes on Oct. 13.

In eight career starts, all this season, Steve's Double has earned $238,346 for Oxbow Racing LLC, the stable name of Kentuckians Art and Stephanie Preston.

Oxbow Racing bought Steve's Double (by Stephen Got Even) for $25,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale. At the following year's Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May sale of 2-year-olds in training, he sold from the Oxbow consignment for $200,000, with the buyer being CDP Racing, a stable name of the Prestons' son, Cole Preston. Oxbow subsequently reacquired him.

Steve's Double's career has been a surprise for Jess and Sharon Sweely, who bred him in the name of their Acorn Hill Farm, located in Madison, Va.

The Sweelys are primarily involved in commercial sport horse breeding. They have about 120 horses, including seven sport horse stallions, on their 200-acre property.

Much of the Sweelys' attention presently is focused on their three-day-event star Woodburn, who carried Philip Dutton to a third-place finish in the Fair Hill, Md., competition in October.

Only eight Thoroughbred broodmares are in active production at Acorn Hill. But their success rate makes them impossible to ignore.

Steve's Double is the second stakes winner Acorn Hill has bred from his dam, Think Double (by Al Nasr), whom Sweely purchased for $6,000 at the 1995 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic February sale - as a potential mate for a Warmblood stallion.

"We were looking to buy Thoroughbred mares capable of producing sport horses," said Jess Sweely, who had Maryland bloodstock agent Don Litz as his adviser in the purchase.

The Sweelys reviewed their options with Think Double after taking her home. "She was such a nice mare with a hard-knocking race record," said Sweely. She has 6 wins in 42 starts and earnings of $100,128.

They decided to breed her with the goal of producing a steeplechaser. Northern Baby, a Northern Dancer son famous for his steeplechase offspring, was the "obvious choice" for that mating, said Sweely.

In 1996, Think Double produced Northern Thinking, who raced for the Sweelys, winning the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup, placing in two other stakes over jumps, and earning $123,585.

Steve's Double is Think Double's only other foal of note. But the Sweelys have her yearling Lion Hearted colt in training with Paula Parsons at the Middleburg Training Center in Virginia.

Because of her advancing age, Think Double, a foal of 1987, was pensioned after the 2006 breeding season. Sweely said; however, they may consider bringing her out of retirement next spring.

The Sweelys typically send their mares to be foaled out at the farm where they will be bred. Steve's Double is a Maryland-bred because Think Double was bred (but failed to conceive) to Partner's Hero at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, Md.

It was a similar story for the other stakes winner bred by the Sweelys.

Case of the Blues, a Maryland-bred by former Maryland stallion In Case, won or placed in 14 stakes, earning $499,621 in the late 1990s and early 2000s for Skeedattle Associates, which purchased her from the Sweelys for $20,000 at the 1998 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale.

Case of the Blues was produced from the Cure the Blues mare Musical Cure, whom Litz selected for the Sweelys at the 1996 Keeneland January sale. An $8,000 purchase, Musical Cure might also have found her way into the sport horse world - and didn't.