12/19/2006 1:00AM

Early buzz for five freshmen


LAS VEGAS - Every December and January, I take a sneak peek at the upcoming group of freshmen sires - those stallions whose first crop of babies will race next year at 2. There are usually two or three freshmen sires with high expectations, but the 2007 class features a deep group of stallions whose weanlings and yearlings commanded lofty prices. Three of the five stallions are by Seattle Slew, his son A.P. Indy, or his grandson Pulpit. Of the other two, one is by Unbridled and the other by Mr. Prospector.

Empire Maker (Unbridled)

Empire Maker may turn out to be Unbridled's best son at stud. He was a talented racehorse, winning the Belmont, Wood Memorial, and Florida Derby and finishing second in the Kentucky Derby in 2003, but he also has the pedigree. Bred and owned by Juddmonte Farms, Empire Maker is one of five major stakes winners out of Toussaud, the 2002 Broodmare of the Year; the other stakes winners are Honest Lady, Chester House, Chiselling, and Decarchy.

That combination of talent and pedigree has attracted an astounding first book of mares. Standing at Juddmonte's nursery in Lexington, Ky., Empire Maker was bred to some of Juddmonte's very best broodmares, including Dokki, the dam of Aptitude; Diese, a half-sister to multiple English champion Xaar, from the immediate female family of last year's Belmont Stakes winner, Jazil; Euphonize, whose dam is a half-sister to Danehill; Flute, who won the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes; Jolypha, a French champion; Skimble, a multiple stakes winner who was the dam of Skimming; and Tates Creek, a multiple stakes winner. Empire Creek has 91 foals from his first crop, most of whom are bred for the classics. While some may develop as late-blooming juveniles stretching out at one mile and beyond, they will be at their best as 3-year-olds and older runners.

Mineshaft (A.P. Indy)

Like Empire Maker, Mineshaft has all the tools to succeed as a stallion. A winner of 7 of 9 starts as a 4-year-old in 2003, when he was voted Horse of the Year, Mineshaft also has the pedigree and an impressive first book of mares. By this year's leading sire, A.P. Indy, Mineshaft is out of stakes winner Prospectors Delite, who was the 2003 Broodmare of the Year and had a perfect record as a broodmare, producing five stakes winners from five foals: Mineshaft, Tomisue's Delight, Rock Slide, Delta Music, and Monashee Mountain.

Mineshaft's first foals are out of high-quality mares, such as Better Than Honour, the dam of Jazil; Danzig Colors, a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner and champion Winning Colors; Dear Birdie, the dam of champion Bird Town and Belmont and Travers winner Birdstone; Immerse, the dam of Stephen Got Even; Marital Spook, the dam of Yonaguska; Prom Knight, the dam of Breeders' Cup Classic winner Volponi; Win's Fair Lady, a stakes-winning half-sister to Graeme Hall, Harmony Lodge, and Win McCool; and Oh What a Windfall, a Grade 1-winning full sister to champion Heavenly Prize. Mineshaft's juveniles should have tactical speed, but they should be most effective as late-developing babies. Most are bred for classic distances.

Vindication (Seattle Slew)

Vindication only raced at 2, winning all four of his starts before being voted champion 2-year-old male, and his babies should be quick from the get-go. Also attracting stellar mares for his first book, Vindication has 119 foals from his first crop, and their speed and ability to stretch beyond one mile should allow them to win from June through December. His first crop includes foals out of Apelia, a Canadian champion sprinter who was the dam of Saoirse; Banshee Winds, the dam of champion Banshee Breeze; Charm a Gendarme, a multiple stakes winner who was the dam of Tout Charmant and Forest Grove; Clever Monique, the dam of Yes It's True; Halo America, a multiple stakes winner who was the dam of Marino Marini; Magical Masquerade, the dam of The Green Monkey, who sold for a world record of $16 million at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Calder sale of 2-year-olds in training; Santa Catalina, the dam of Golden Missile; Silvery Swan, the dam El Corredor and Roman Ruler; Subtle Fragrance, the dam of Soto; and Whiffling, the dam of Preakness winner Prairie Bayou.

Sky Mesa (Pulpit)

Sky Mesa's victories at 2 included the Hopeful Stakes and Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, but a nagging injury precluded a start in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He was also second in the Haskell Invitational Stakes and third in the Dwyer Stakes in an abbreviated career. By Pulpit, Sky Mesa's female family assured a career at stud. He is out of stakes winner Caress, who is a full sister to Country Cat and Bernstein and a half-sister to Della Francesca. Sky Mesa's second dam is a half-sister to champion 2-year-old filly Outstandingly, and his fourth dam is a half-sister to Horse of the Year Buckpasser. He has 89 foals from his first crop, and they are out of mares such as champion Beautiful Pleasure; stakes winner Darling My Darling; champion Hidden Lake; Irish Cherry, the dam of Spun Sugar; and Little Bar Fly, the dam of Officer. Watch for Sky Mesa's babies to have good speed and to win early. With Pulpit, Storm Cat, and Affirmed up close in his pedigree, Sky Mesa is a hidden turf sire whose runners will be live plays on turf.

Aldebaran (Mr. Prospector)

The 2003 champion sprinter at 5, Aldebaran also hails from a special female family that has produced many high-class stakes winners, including Spinning World; Best in Show, the 1982 Broodmare of the Year; Denon; Blush With Pride; Jazil; Good Journey; Tomisue's Indy; and Sea of Showers.

Aldebaran won his only start at 2, in England on turf, and his runners should inherit his speed and also be able to win beyond one mile. Aldebaran was bred to Darby Dan Farm's finest mares, including Ameriflora, the dam of Japanese champion Grass Wonder and multiple stakes winner Wonder Again; Blazing Kadie, the dam of Blazing Fury; Ellie's Moment, a stakes winner who is a three-quarter sister to Brian's Time; Soaring Softly, the champion female turf horse of 1999; Love You By Heart, a stakes winner; and Memories of Silver, a multiple Grade 1 winner. Aldebaran's first crop also includes a half-sister to Belmont winner Commendable; a half-sister to Chattahoochee War; and a half-brother to Melhor Ainda.