10/13/2005 11:00PM

First Samurai has left the barn, but not his dam


LEXINGTON, Ky. - With a spirited victory in the Champagne Stakes this weekend, First Samurai confirmed his ranking as the leading juvenile colt in the country.

That is some consolation to his breeder, John Gunther, who identifies First Samurai, a powerful son of Giant's Causeway, as "one of the ones that got away."

"But I have to be happy being the breeder," he said.

With an operation based in Kentucky at his Glennwood Farm, Gunther breeds and races his own horses, but also sells a portion of his annual foal crop.

Two of the colts from his crop of 2003 are likely to play a significant role in the the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 29.

First Samurai is the current favorite for the race, and Stevie Wonderboy, who figures to be among the well-regarded choices for the Juvenile, was co-bred in Kentucky by Gunther.

While producing a pair of colts of this quality is a breeder's dream, Gunther is also a racing man, and he admits that "I don't know whether I should jump out this window."

Noting that "it's hard to reproduce something that good," Gunther clearly had some inclination to keep the chestnut colt later named First Samurai.

Gunther said, "I thought he was one of the best-looking yearlings I ever raised."

But because First Samurai was bred on a six-figure stud fee, the fiscally prudent thing to do was to offer him at auction. So, Gunther said he put him in the September 2004 Keeneland yearling sale, "thinking that he'd bring a big price," but the breeder bought the colt back for $380,000.

That sum was not small but was so much less than Gunther expected that he was stunned. He said, "One of the auctioneers walked up to me just after I'd bought back the colt and said, 'We missed a guy out back if you'd like to sell him.' "

Describing himself as "shocked" that the colt had not met his reserve price, Gunther said that "at that moment, with the auctioneer coming up to him, I went ahead and sold him."

The sale has proven a landslide of success for Bruce Lunsford and Lansdon Robbins, who own the Breeders' Cup Juvenile favorite and pro tem leaderof the division.

Nor does Gunther go away empty-handed. He said: "I still have the dam and a half-sister in foal. I have a weanling half-sister. I booked the mare back to Giant's Causeway, but they haven't set the fee. They are taking a list of mares, but they aren't setting the fee until after the November sale."

That fee, when announced, is guaranteed to be significant. Giant's Causeway is the sire of eight stakes winners to date, but most importantly for high demand at an elite stud fee, four of his stakes winners have won at Group 1 or Grade 1 level.

Two of the Group 1 winners are classic winners Shamardal and Footstepsinthesand, and First Samurai would add another laurel to his sire's reputation if he becomes an American champion.

Five years before breeding First Samurai, Gunther acquired his dam, the Dixieland Band mare Freddie Frisson, as a racehorse in training. He said: "I was at the Kentucky Derby, and there was a filly called Sky Blue Pink running that day. I bet on her, and she won impressively. I said, 'I've got to get something from this family.' I tracked down her half-sister Freddie Frisson, phoned the owner, and offered him $150,000 for her while she was still racing. She won me a couple of stakes and earned about $150,000 when I was racing her."

Freddie Frisson gave her new owner a flying start with her racing successes, but there were disappointments also. Said Gunther: "Freddie Frisson was in foal to A.P. Indy with her first foal, and I had entered her in the November sale, but she lost it about three weeks before the sale."

The mare's first foal was a filly by Hennessy named In the Ghetto, "who had a throat problem," Gunther said. "I ran her for $7,500, and she was claimed off me. Earlier this year, a friend of mine tracked her down, and she was in foal to Delaware Township. I managed to buy her back the week before First Samurai won his first start. So I guess that was fortunate."

After producing First Samurai, Freddie Frisson went to Menifee, producing a chestnut colt who is now a yearling. Gunther has decided to race him. Bred to Cherokee Run, the mare produced a bay filly this year. Unfortunately, the mare had a prolapsed uterus after foaling the Cherokee Run filly.

Gunther said, "I bred her to Forestry, and she got in foal, which was unusual. But she resorbed the pregnancy."

The owner-breeder described his prized mare as a "typical Dixieland Band, medium-sized mare, not small or big, with some length. I'm surprised First Samurai is as big as he is. He wasn't what you'd call a big yearling. He just developed a lot his year, kept on growing."

Big as he is on the track, First Samurai looks even bigger in the winner's circle.