11/06/2002 12:00AM

Elusive Quality tops freshman class


LAS VEGAS - With less than two months until the end of the year, it's time for the annual report card for freshman stallions. For a variety of reasons, many first-crop stallions should not be summarily dismissed because they were not expected to be an immediate hit at stud.

For example, runners by Anziyan, Awad, Joyeux Danseur, King of Kings, Labeeb, Lasting Approval, Ops Smile, Romanov, Subordination, and Swain will be much more effective once they appear regularly on turf and at longer distances when they are 3-year-olds.

Offspring by Deputy Commander and Will's Way were also not expected to be win-early types, so it is noteworthy that both sires had juveniles who showed promise. Runners by these stallions should really come into their own at 3 at longer distances. Offspring by Deputy Commander should also be quite effective on grass.

What makes a top sire of 2-year-olds? Speed.

1. Elusive Quality (A): Elusive Quality's 2-year-olds have won from coast to coast, as well as in Europe, and on dirt and grass. A brilliant stakes-winning son of Gone West, his leading earner was Elusive City, one of Europe's best juveniles. Elusive Quality has an impressive six stakes winners from his first crop. While they have shown talent on dirt, they will ultimately prove to be superior on grass. Elusive Quality has sired 16 winners from 27 starters.

2. Distorted Humor (A): If not for Elusive Quality, Distorted Humor would be the runaway leader of this year's freshman stallions. He is the sire of Awesome Humor, a multiple stakes winner who was the early leader of the 2-year-old filly division before she was sidelined by injury. His runners have shown high speed, and he has sired 10 winners from 25 starters.

3. Awesome Again (A): Led by Champagne Stakes winner Toccet, Awesome Again has had a very good year. His runners have shown ability on all surfaces, and they should be especially effective stretching out on dirt and turf next year at 3.

4. Swiss Yodeler (A-): Bred to a very modest book of mares, Swiss Yodeler got off to a blazing start during the summer. He has 12 winners from 23 starters, led by stakes winner Oberwald. Swiss Yodeler was at his best when he was 2, and his runners have obviously inherited his speed. He will be a major force in the California market for years to come.

5. Grand Slam (B): Another son of Gone West, and from the female family that produced Alydar, Grand Slam was a top 2-year-old, and his juveniles were highly regarded from the start. His runners have been impressive on dirt and turf, and they should continue to improve at 3.

6. Tale of the Cat (B): Because of his Storm Cat sire line and that he had a sprinter's speed, Tale of the Cat was expected to be among this year's freshman leaders. In fact, he leads this group with at least 17 winners, and his runners have yet to be tested on grass. His leading earner is stakes winner Risky Cat.

7. Touch Gold (B): Touch Gold, who was not expected to be an instant hit with his juveniles, served notice that he is going to be a major sire. Composure was his best runner and she came within a half-length of being champion 2-year-old filly. Touch Gold won the 1997 Belmont Stakes and his runners will be much better at 3. They should also be adept on dirt and turf.

8. Concerto (B): Concerto, a grandson of Danzig, got off to a good start by siring eight winners from 17 starters, including stakes winner Collymore Hall. At $3,500 Concerto's stud fee attracted a modest group of mares, but his juveniles outran their pedigrees - a mark of a good stallion.

9. Indian Charlie (B): Indian Charlie was a pedigree handicapper's dream. He was underrated, and the majority of his 2-year-olds paid double-digit prices in their first or second starts. Blessed with speed, his runners were very effective at five and six furlongs and should be able to win at distances up to 1 1/16 miles next year.

10. Coronado's Quest (B): Coronado's Quest's runners really blossomed late in the year. His 2-year-old winners include European stakes winner Al Jadeed. Bred to a stellar group of mares, his runners are developing into serious runners on dirt and turf and should be major players next year.

11. Stormy Atlantic (B): Led by stakes winner Atlantic Ocean, his 2-year-olds have performed admirably on dirt and should really be in their element when switched to grass next year.

Other stallions whose runners have flashed brilliance include Benchmark, Souvenir Copy, Skip Away, Favorite Trick, Double Honor, Lucky Lionel, and Banker's Gold.

A sire to definitely watch next year is Gentlemen, who had four winners from 16 starters, including Man Among Men, who shined on turf. While his runners should be competent on dirt, they are already showing their superiority on grass.

The obscure Tartan Farms-bred stallion Commanchero, a son of Unbridled, had only one winner from nine starters. The winner was Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Most Feared.

All in all, it was a very good year for the freshman sires of 2002.