10/07/2004 11:00PM

Like his sire, Var a late bloomer

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Blazing away from his competition over a fast turf course at Longchamp to win the Prix de l'Abbaye, Var could hardly have been more impressive in a display of pure speed. In that and other respects, he is remarkably like his sire, the Storm Cat stallion Forest Wildcat.

Both are highly talented horses who showed high speed early in their careers but did not win a stakes until they were 5. By that time, many owners have given up on talented horses who have yet to succeed in a stakes, but perseverance paid off in spades with this father and son.

Forest Wildcat had won 4 of 13 starts through his 4-year-old season, then picked up another five victories, including four stakes, from seven starts as a 5-year-old. With his natural speed and multiple stakes victories, combined with the escalating popularity of Storm Cat, Forest Wildcat went to stud and has never looked back.

He is one of the most successful sons of Storm Cat at stud, having sired Grade 1 winners Forest Secrets (Acorn) and D'wildcat (De Francis Memorial Dash), along with graded winners Snow Dance, Forest Heiress, and Wild Snitch.

In becoming Forest Wildcat's third winner at the highest level, Var had a similarly circuitous road to celebrity. He had won 4 of 14 starts prior to this year, and has now won 3 of 4 starts as a 5-year-old this season.

But Var was expected to work out well on the track. Purchased as a yearling for $120,000 by Richard O'Gorman, agent, at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2000, Var was considered a high-quality prospect and was first sent to race in Europe.

Before he started, however, Var returned to the U.S. to be trained by Bill Mott, who recalled that "we got him as a late 2-year-old, after he had been in France then came to us."

A handsome, blocky horse, Var was a little backward when he returned to the States and began his 3-year-old career at Aqueduct in February 2002. Second in his debut, Var raced twice more at 3, then went to the sidelines until January 2003.

Under Mott's handling, Var won a maiden race in his sixth start, at Aqueduct, running for a $30,000 claiming tag. Var again won at $30,000 before Mott tried him on turf.

Mott noted that Var "started to excel when we put him on the grass," winning three more races in fast time and putting up Beyer Speed Figures in the 90's. In January 2004, Var earned his fifth victory in the U.S., when he ran five furlongs on turf in 55.47 seconds at Calder.

"That's when they decided to take him back to Europe," Mott said.

From four starts this year, Var has three victories, including his first stakes success last month in the Starlit Stakes at Goodwood. Promoted into Group 3 company at Newbury for his next race, Var lost by a head to Group 1 winner The Tatling, who caught Var right on the line.

The two met again in the 1,000-meter Prix de l'Abbaye at level weights, and Var, scorching the earth in front, held his opponent by a half-length to win a Group 1 event and a berth at stud either in America or Europe. Var's time was 55.00 on a good to firm surface.

The most prestigious winner for Forest Wildcat this season, Var was raised at the Brookdale Farm of Fred Seitz, where Forest Wildcat stands at stud.

Seitz said: "When Var went through the sale, he was a nice, medium-sized colt who was attractive, and he had a very nice head. We raised him and were pleased to consign him."

Forest Wildcat's stud fee at the time was $10,000 and Var was part of the stallion's second crop. Var sold for $120,000 at the sale "and we were happy with that price," Seitz said. "We thought he was worth it."

Bred in Kentucky by John Eaton, Var is the first foal out of the Zilzal mare Loma Preata, but he is also the mare's only foal. The stakes-placed Loma Preata was barren in 2000, the year after she produced Var, and died in 2001 while in foal to Gulch.

Forest Wildcat stood for $40,000 in 2004. His yearlings averaged $123,000 this year, and, Seitz said, "We breed only 110 mares, so we like to get the fee right so that we can be selective, too."