08/21/2008 11:00PM

First yearlings from star quintet

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Among the stallions who have their first yearlings on sale this fall, a quintet of champions and star performers stands out: Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, champions Afleet Alex and Kitten's Joy, and the major winners Rock Hard Ten and Roman Ruler.

Far and away, Ghostzapper, a Breeders' Cup Classic winner, is the most expensive horse in the group with a $150,000 fee - the highest fee for a horse at stud without foals of racing age.

With 9 victories from 11 starts and earnings of more than $3.4 million, Ghostzapper was a

winner at the Grade 1 level at ages 3, 4, and 5. Those performances put him in an elite category, and after his Horse of the Year campaign at 4, a significant interest in him and in his sire, Awesome Again, was sold to Jess Jackson before the horse's retirement to stud at Adena Springs.

As the property of private breeders, Ghostzapper has not flooded the market with his yearlings (he has 42 in the September sale), and the stallion was bred to some very nice mares by his owners and by other breeders who paid for the privilege.

The stallion's yearlings at the select July and August sales brought prices up to $500,000, and the elite members of the crop will command considerable interest from buyers in September.

Jackson also holds an ownership interest in dual classic winner Afleet Alex, who stands at Gainesway Farm for $30,000.

An impressive winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, Afleet Alex also won the Hopeful Stakes at 2 and ran second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. The son of Northern Afleet won 8 of his 12 starts, earning more than $2.7 million.

Afleet Alex's high class as a 2-year-old was a significant factor in attracting breeders. He was one of those rare horses who had outstanding speed as a young horse with the stride and distance qualities to make him successful when going a route of ground.

The early foals by Afleet Alex have been generally praised, and at the summer sales, they have sold for up to $375,000, a hefty return on a $30,000 fee.

Like Afleet Alex, both Roman Ruler and Kitten's Joy are priced at $30,000. Kitten's Joy was also a champion, winning his laurels as the top turf horse in 2004. Kitten's Joy is a homebred product of the Ramsey Farm breeding and racing operation of Ken and Sarah Ramsey, and the chestnut stallion stands at their farm south of Lexington.

Kitten's Joy is by the Adena Springs stallion El Prado, a son of premier international sire Sadler's Wells, who was recently pensioned. Kitten's Joy is also one of five named foals out of Kitten's First. One of the others is Grade 1 winner Precious Kitten, and a third is stakes winner Justenuffheart, the dam of champion Dreaming of Anna.

The family of Kitten's Joy is extremely active and has contributed to interest in the young stallion. Kitten's Joy is a substantial horse with good length, and he has sired some good-looking and robust yearlings.

Haskell Invitational winner Roman Ruler is a medium-sized horse with excellent balance and quality. He stands at Hill 'n' Dale Farm and is the best-known son of Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

Fusaichi Pegasus is a classic-winning son of Mr. Prospector and is a model of rugged power who shows a considerable physical kinship with Danzig and Halo (sires of the dam and second dam of Fusaichi Pegasus).

In contrast, Roman Ruler is a tidier package, with power but more finesse.

Whereas Fusaichi Pegasus was a magnificent yearling, bringing $4 million at the time, but not reaching his full powers until his 3-year-old season, his son Roman Ruler was a handsome young horse who grew into his natural ability more quickly, winning the Norfolk Stakes and running a close second to divisional champion Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity at 2.

Although Roman Ruler did not develop into a classic winner like his sire, the bay won the Dwyer and Haskell the following season and was snapped up for stud.

A half-brother to fellow Hill 'n' Dale stallion

El Corredor (by Mr. Greeley), Roman Ruler had one of the best stallion profiles when entering stud, and accolades for the family have continued to grow with the stud success of El Corredor (sire of Adieu and El Gato Malo, among others) and the obvious quality of the multi-million dollar yearling Maimonides, who is a half-brother to

El Corredor and Roman Ruler.

Yearlings from the first crop by Roman Ruler have sold for as much as $230,000, with a fetching colt out of Grade 1 winner Jeanne Jones bringing that sum from Ken McPeek, agent.

Another promising young stallion is Rock Hard Ten. Standing for $50,000 at Lane's End, Rock Hard Ten has the second-highest stud fee in this grouping and is the tallest of the group.

Tall, dark, and handsome, Rock Hard Ten showed uncommon speed for such a big racer, winning the Malibu Stakes at the Grade 1 level and doing likewise at 10 furlongs in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Rock Hard Ten needed some time to come to his best form, but he matured rapidly over the winter between his second and third years. His presence on the track was so great that he became a wise guy horse for the classics, where the son of Kris S. ran second in the Preakness Stakes.

The yearlings by Rock Hard Ten have shown many of the qualities of their sire, and one at the Saratoga select yearling sale was in such demand that he brought $750,000 from Legends Racing.

The expression of size, power, and scope for distance are always popular with yearling buyers, and the Rock Hard Ten stock tends toward those qualities.

A year from now, the first crop of these sires will have gone through the crucible of the juvenile in-training sales, and we will learn which of these promising sires will ascend to greater things.