05/11/2007 12:00AM

Flying First Class a miracle colt


Flying First Class will be a longshot in Saturday's $1 million Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. Considering the injuries that his sire and dam have overcome in recent years, it is a wonder that Flying First Class even exists to run in a classic race.

A California-bred, Flying First Class represents the first Preakness starter for California owner and breeder Bud Johnston, who owns Old English Rancho in Sanger.

Even Johnston admits that getting to the Preakness with a colt by the stallion Perfect Mandate out of the broodmare Flying in Style is just short of an equine miracle.

Flying in Style is lucky to be alive. She suffered a broken hip in a 2001 race, and was tied to a stall wall for three months before she recovered sufficiently to be able to lay down, Johnston said.

"Just out of stubbornness, I tried to save her, and she's the dam of Flying First Class," Johnston said.

Her 2003 mating to Perfect Mandate came after the stallion had missed a year of stud duty after being kicked. He later missed the 2005 breeding season after suffering a badly broken ankle while exercising, an injury so severe that a full year passed before Johnston believed the now 11-year-old stallion would survive.

"It's an amazing story that she's made it as a broodmare and he's making it as a sire," Johnston said.

But they have, and Flying First Class is already a stakes winner, having won the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs on April 28. He will be an outsider in a Preakness field led by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense.

Perfect Mandate did not amount to much as a racehorse. He made two starts, never won, and finished second in the Sunny Slope Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in 1998.

When he went to stud at Old English Rancho in 2000, Perfect Mandate was part of Johnston's effort to find "young stallions" to fit his farm, which had relocated from Southern California to central California.

By Gone West, Perfect Mandate was trained by D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Flying First Class.

"Wayne said to me, 'He was one of the fastest horses I've ever had my hands on,' " Johnston said. "I thought he deserves a chance at stud."

Perfect Mandate had early success as a stallion, siring the stakes winners Allswellthatnswell and Razen Hazen. But the injury he suffered in 2005 was life-threatening and remains a major concern for Johnston and the farm staff.

The accident occurred while Perfect Mandate "was playing" while being exercised in an arena at the farm, Johnston said. The subsequent operation required screws and plates to stabilize the injury, Johnston said.

"It took a whole year [before we knew] we were going to be able to save him," he said.

Perfect Mandate recovered well enough to resume breeding a full book of mares this year, having been bred to "a few mares" last year, Johnston said. Johnston set an early limit of 30 mares for 2007, but increased that figure after he saw that Perfect Mandate could handle the breeding process.

"He's able to mount the mares and he protects it very well," Johnston said of the injured leg. "You wouldn't be able to do that with any horse. He lies down a lot.

"He's very healthy right now. I think we limited his book to 70 to 75 mares. I was going to limit it to 30 mares because I wasn't sure if he'd handle it. I think it will probably eventually go so arthritic that it will probably shorten his life, but right now he's fine. Sometimes, the ones you least expect to make it, do."