06/26/2006 11:00PM

Early returns on freshman sires

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LAS VEGAS - The 2-year-old season is under way, and that means freshman stallions - sires whose first foals are now 2 - are in the spotlight.

While some baby races are carded early in the season for precocious runners at the two-furlong distance at Santa Anita, the real 2-year-old racing season begins with well-bred Thoroughbreds at Keeneland in April. The momentum increases in May and June around the country, and the distances also increase from 4 1/2 to 5 and 5 1/2 furlongs.

Leading the parade of freshman stallions at this early stage is the relatively obscure Gibson County, a stakes-winning son of the wickedly fast In Excess.

Gibson County is a California-bred whose specialty was speed. He won the California Breeders' Champion Stakes and Don B. Stakes at 2, ran third in the 2000 San Vicente Stakes at 3, won a stakes and ran third in the Cal Cup Sprint at 4, and was stakes-placed at 5.

Gibson County is out of Miss Gibson County (by Winrightt), a stakes winner at 2, 3, and 4. With In Excess on top and Winrightt, a son of Distinctive, on the bottom, Gibson County was bred for speed and his first crop is also showing early brilliance.

What is remarkable is that in this era of many foal crops numbering more than 100 Gibson County leads the freshman sire list with only 13 foals from his first crop. He is the sire already of 3 winners from 5 starters, including Willard F. Proctor Memorial Stakes winner Genuine Talent.

Of course, these are the early results and by year's end the young stallions with large foal crops will likely surpass sires such as Gibson County.

There are a number of freshman sires nipping at the heels of Gibson County, and with the number of lucrative races for 2-year-olds ahead at Saratoga and Del Mar, the battle for first-crop supremacy will begin in earnest.

Officer (Bertrando), a brilliant 2-year-old who led the division in the summer of 2001, before finishing out of the money in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and then losing to Cal-breds in the Cal Cup Juvenile, has gotten off to a fast start at stud. He is the sire of 4 winners from 10 starters, and most of his runners have displayed his win-early speed. He sired a total of 64 2-year-olds.

Cat's at Home (Tabasco Cat), a stakes winner at 3, 4, and 5 and a colt who was unraced at 2, has 3 winners from 7 starters. Cat's at Home is a half-brother to stakes winners Honor the Hero, Prenup, and Capitalimprovement, and to the winner Marital Spook (the dam of Yonaguska). Cat's at Home has 49 2-year-olds.

Abajo, a seven-time stakes winner, has 4 winners from 8 starters. A son of Robyn Dancer (Crafty Prospector), Abajo has 45 2-year-olds.

Also making some noise already as a sire is Three Wonders, a son of the ubiquitous Storm Cat. Three Wonders, a three-quarter brother to Illinois Derby winner Distilled, was a stakes winner on turf and he is a dual threat as a sire. He has 3 winners from 9 starters, and they should really come to life when they begin to race on grass.

Johannesburg, one of the marquee names among this year's freshman stallions, has three winners, including Scat Daddy, the most impressive 2-year-old to have run among trainer Todd Pletcher's enormous army of juveniles. Undefeated at 2, Johannesburg earned a championship in four countries, which was unprecedented, winning Grade 1 or Group 1 races in England, France, Ireland, and the United States.

By Hennessy (Storm Cat), Johannesburg is from a female family known for producing good stallions. Pulpit, Tale of the Cat, Minardi, and Round Table all come from this prolific female line. While Johannesburg won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on dirt and his runners are winning on dirt, they should be dramatically better on turf.

Runners by Buddha, Include, Came Home, Thunderello, and Orientate have all suggested that these sires should have plenty more winners this year.

Buddha, winner of the 2002 Wood Memorial Stakes (which turned out to be his final start), is a son of speed influence Unbridled's Song, and his third dam is a half-sister to 1967 Horse of the Year and influential sire Damascus. His yearlings were uniformly well received at various sales last year and his 2-year-old filly Lenaro was most impressive in winning her only start.

Include (Broad Brush), who won 10 of his 20 starts, including the Pimlico Special and New Orleans and Massachusetts handicaps, has sired 2 winners from 5 starters, and is one of the last links to the important Domino sire line.

Came Home (Gone West) won prestigious stakes at 2 and 3, including the Hopeful, Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Derby, and Swaps Stakes. As a son of the influential Mr. Prospector sire Gone West, Came Home has high expectations as a stallion. He has sired 1 winner from just 6 starters, but more winners are sure to come. Like Johannesburg's, his offspring should be effective on turf as well as dirt.

Stakes winner Thunderello (Montbrook) raced only seven times but showed brilliance when finishing second to Orientate in the 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has 1 winner from 7 starters. He is based in New York and his foals soon should be winning many statebred races.

Orientate (Mt. Livermore), the 2002 champion sprinter, has 1 winner from 8 starters but has 88 2-year-olds, meaning there surely are more winners to come.

There also are some stallions whose runners should start asserting themselves later this year as they mature and race at longer distances. Among those sires are Street Cry, Red Bullet, Jump Start, Mizzen Mast, E Dubai, Storm Day, Honor Glide, Mongoose, Invisible Ink, Pure Prize, Wheelaway, and Forbidden Apple.