04/10/2007 11:00PM

Great Hunter has classics written all over him

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Great Hunter and Street Sense met last year at Keeneland in the Breeders' Futurity, Great Hunter won convincingly from Circular Quay, with Street Sense third. But Street Sense reversed placings with Great Hunter in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, with Circular Quay again second, and took home the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old colt.

So next Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland offers a prospect of deja vu to bettors and racing fans as Great Hunter meets Street Sense for the first time since the Breeders' Cup.

The distances of the races are slightly longer this year, however, and the Blue Grass offers Great Hunter an opportunity to confirm his ranking among the 3-year-olds as a colt who appreciates classic distances, which will become increasingly important in the next several weeks as the Derby and Belmont Stakes test stamina and zest for racing.

On the evidence of his bloodlines, Great Hunter is a colt who should improve and prosper with racing at 10 furlongs or longer. Bred by the Ivy Dell Stud of Phil Fanning, Great Hunter is by Kentucky Derby runner-up Aptitude, a son of leading sire A.P. Indy, and out of the Roy mare Zenith.

Zenith was a stakes winner and was one of the best American racers by her sire Roy, a very large son of the important sire Fappiano. Winner of the Metropolitan Handicap, Fappiano was sired by the great stallion Mr. Prospector. This represents one of the best classic branches coming from Raise a Native, the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince and a son of Preakness and Belmont winner Native Dancer.

Fappiano's sons include the important sires Unbridled and Quiet American. Unbridled won the Kentucky Derby and sired classic winners Grindstone, Red Bullet, and Empire Maker. Quiet American sired Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet, whose daughter Wonder Lady Anne L won the Coaching Club American Oaks last year.

Like members of his dam's family, the male line of Great Hunter also has earned distinction in the classics.

Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy has proven himself the most successful and popular stallion son of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. Although he has sired some very good juveniles, A.P. Indy has achieved these distinctions primarily on the basis of his many outstanding 3-year-olds and older horses, such as last year's Preakness Stakes winner Bernardini and 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft.

A.P. Indy's son Aptitude was one of his sire's many successful performers at middle distances. A nonwinner from two starts at 2, Aptitude progressed swiftly during the spring of his 3-year-old season, running well in preps for the Triple Crown and then running second in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont. The next year, Aptitude won both the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 1 1/4 miles.

That distance was the optimum trip for Aptitude, and his offspring have shown an inclination for racing well over a distance and improving as they reach classic age. From his first crop of 3-year-old racers last year, Aptitude's son Steppenwolfer ran third in the Kentucky Derby, and the stallion also had other good stakes horses among his 3-year-old crop.

"Good" doesn't mean much in the intense competition for broodmares, however. A stallion needs something great. Having a Grade 1 winner among his 2-year-olds meant as much, and perhaps more, in terms of adding mares as having a runner who was classic-placed, and victory in the Breeders' Futurity was the dividend that Great Hunter delivered last season.

Garrett O'Rourke, manager of Juddmonte Farms, which bred and raced Aptitude, said that having a top-class juvenile greatly helped attract more mares to Aptitude's book this year. After Aptitude covered 71 mares in 2006, Juddmonte "stopped his book" at 130 mares this year, O'Rourke said.

He continued: "In the current climate for stallions, your horse can be the flavor of the month in his first and maybe his second season at stud. Then they dump you unless the stallion gets the big horse. Aptitude delivered the goods. He came out with Steppenwolfer in his first crop and backed that up with Great Hunter in the fall, and Aptitude's book has been chock-a-block full for a while."

If Great Hunter makes the grade in one of the classics this year, he will have proven "great" for his sire, as well as an outstanding racehorse.