03/26/2004 12:00AM

First mare set Derby dream in motion

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Want a formula for success in the horse business? Start with the right mare. Just ask Stanton "Bo" Smith and his wife, Stella.

The Smiths, of Millstone, N.J., found that mare with Fancy Pan, the first racehorse they ever owned. Now, 17 years later, the Smiths are making plans to attend this year's Kentucky Derby to follow St Averil, a grandson of Fancy Pan.

St Averil is a stakes-winning Saint Ballado colt with a growing reputation. Bred by the Smiths and their partners - Jack Wilcox and Bo Smith's cousin Michael Smith - in the name of Gunsmith Stables, St Averil is out of Gunsmith's stakes-winning homebred Avie's Fancy. From just four starts, St Averil has two wins, including the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes in January, and seconds in the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity, to Lion Heart, and the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes. In the San Felipe, a final prep for the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby on April 3, St Averil was gaining with every stride and just missed catching the winner, Preachinatthebar.

"This is the pinnacle of what the sport is about," Bo Smith said about St Averil's chances of going to Louisville. "To be in the position to say we bred one who made it to the Kentucky Derby is just unimaginable."

But in 1987, the Smiths' main focus was to find a racehorse. Joined by a few friends and relatives, the partnership of Gunsmith Stables was formed, and with the help of trainer Mark Perlsweig and a bloodstock agent, they purchased the 4-year-old filly Fancy Pan for $37,000.

Fancy Pan had been a modest competitor in high-priced claiming races in California when she was acquired by Gunsmith Stables. For her new partners, the mare steadily ascended the ranks, winning the Lady Baltimore Stakes at Pimlico and the Omnibus Stakes at Monmouth, placing in six other stakes, and earning $233,043.

When faced with Fancy Pan's retirement, the Smiths wanted to keep the daughter of Paavo and breed her. That was not an option preferred by others in the partnership, so Gunsmith regrouped and the Smiths, along with Wilcox and Michael Smith, had their first broodmare.

Bo and Stella Smith bought a small farm and set out to learn how to care for their mare. The rewards were immediate when Fancy Pan delivered her first foal, Avie's Fancy.

A daughter of Lord Avie, Avie's Fancy earned $402,909 over three seasons, won or placed in 15 stakes from 21 starts, was named champion New Jersey-bred 3-year-old filly and grass horse in 1994, and repeated as champion grass horse in 1995. A stakes-winning 2-year-old, Avie's Fancy captured the Grade 3 Boiling Springs Handicap at 3 and the Grade 2 Matchmaker Stakes the following year, earning a mating with Holy Bull as part of the Matchmaker prize. She was Grade 1-placed when third in Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II Invitational Challenge Cup.

The Smiths' small breeding operation expanded with Avie's Fancy's retirement. Her daughter Our Cozzette (by Cozzene), the New Jersey-bred champion 2-year-old filly of 2001, also joined the Smiths' broodmare band and produced her first foal, a Touch Gold filly, on March 17.

"We have the possibility to have five generations on the farm," Bo Smith said, pointing out that there are no plans to sell the daughter of Touch Gold. Our Cozzette is being bred back to Cat Thief.

The philosophy of Gunsmith Stables is to sell the colts and keep the fillies. Fancy Pan's current 4-year-old colt, Theo's Saint (by Saint Ballado), sold as a yearling for $225,000. St Averil topped that, bringing $500,000 at the Fasig-Tipton July sale in 2002. If a colt doesn't meet his reserve, he comes home, and Gunsmith Stables has Chief Sequoyah, a 2-year-old by Cherokee Run out of Avie's Fancy, in training in Kentucky. He will join trainer Cathal Lynch this summer at Monmouth.

The Smiths have three mares in production at their New Jersey farm, but Avie's Fancy resides at Joe Dodgen's Seven Fold Farm in Kentucky, where she foaled St Averil. The 13-year-old mare is due April 5 to the cover of Maria's Mon, and is booked to Elusive Quality. Her current yearling colt, a New Jersey-bred son of Cozzene, is to be offered at the Fasig-Tipton July sale.

And the one who started it all? Fancy Pan, now 21, hasn't had a live foal since Theo's Saint. She is being bred to Royal Academy this year and will return home. If she doesn't produce a foal next year, Fancy Pan will live out her retirement at the farm that exists because of her.