09/06/2001 11:00PM

Horatius pensioned at 26

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Horatius, sire of champion sprinter Safely Kept, has been pensioned from stud duty at the age of 26, effectively ending the reign of one of Maryland's most popular stallions.

Horatius, a graded stakes-winning son of Proudest Roman and True Charm (Cohoes), has stood at Charles and Cynthia McGinnes's Thornmar in Chestertown, Md., since beginning his stud career in 1981. This year, he stood for an advertised fee of $1,900 and covered just four mares.

"He is in very good health," said Cynthia McGinnes, "but he had some arthritis in his hips, which made him unsteady when he was covering mares. He still wanted to breed, so we were breeding him to smaller and smaller mares, but it's hard to find many Thoroughbred mares at 15 hands. The syndicate members didn't have mares of the right size, so it seemed best for all concerned that we pension him."

In his long career, Horatius became known as a versatile sire who got tough runners that could earn a profit for their breeders. He never stood for more than $3,500 and now has more than $23.9 million in progeny earnings from 18 crops to race. His 22 career stakes winners to date include both flat runners and steeplechasers, and his progeny also have excelled in show jumping and three-day eventing, even making the short list for the United States Equestrian Team's Olympic squad.

Horatius got a fitting send-off last weekend, when a pair of his runners - Steppedoutofadream, owned by Dr. Philip Torsney, who campaigned Horatius; and Clark's Clone - took two restricted stakes at Timonium. Both are homebreds, and, McGinnes said, exemplify Horatius's reputation as a working-man's stallion. But Horatius, helped by Maryland's breeding incentive program, also achieved the rare feat of profitability for his owners.

"What Horatius did is give people who breed to the $2,000 horse a good chance to get a runner that can earn $150,000," she said. "He has never disappointed anyone in his whole life. His syndicate members have never had to pay a bill since his first 2-year-olds went to the track, because the stallion bonuses he's gotten through the Maryland breeding program have literally paid for everything, even his advertising. He's paid for his own retirement."

Despite his blue-collar status, Horatius is best known nationally as the sire of 1990 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner and champion sprinter Safely Kept, a winner of $2,194,206. Horatius also is the sire of graded stakes winners Oliver's Twist and Algar, and such major earners as stakes winners Forry How Cow ($432,275), Foxie G ($392,568), Charlie You Know ($373,057), among others.

Horatius was one of two stakes-winners produced by the unraced mare True Charm. Bred by Col. W. Randolph Tayloe and trained by James W. Murphy, he raced from ages 2 to 6. Horatius retired from the track in 1980 with a career record of 54-18-13-4, highlighted by a win in the Grade 3 Riggs Handicap and six other stakes, and earnings of $383,899.