09/17/2004 12:00AM

Hornings' pride and joy


Family is important to Larry Horning Jr., a Bowie-based trainer for nearly 25 years and one of Larry and Carol Horning's eight children. A love of racing pulled the senior Horning into the game in 1969, and Junior followed, becoming a trainer in 1980.

In 1987 at the Keeneland sales, Horning Sr. purchased a yearling filly he named Poppy's Passion. On Sept. 6 at Timonium, Poppy's Passion's son Captain Chessie, trained by Horning Jr., captured the Taking Risks Stakes for his first stakes win. Many Hornings could be found in the winner's circle celebrating at the state fair's family-friendly track that day.

Horning Sr., who died in 1992, had to have been there in spirit.

"It was fun - a big thing for everyone," said Horning. "Captain Chessie is the kind of horse my father would have wanted to race."

Captain Chessie, a 5-year-old gelded son of Summer Squall, is the fifth foal out of the only mare owned by the Horning family. He was bred and is raced by matriarch Carol Horning-Woerhle, who admits she "owns the horse in name only, since Larry handles all the details,"

Captain Chessie had shown promise from the time he made his 2-year-old debut, a race won by future Grade 1 winner Booklet. After scoring by 11 lengths for his maiden victory next out, Captain Chessie chipped a knee, the first of a number of setbacks.

Horning brought Captain Chessie out at 3 to win or place in four of his first five starts, including a second in the Star de Naskra Stakes, but had to stop again after the bay colt pulled up badly with sore feet from a race at Delaware. During the fall of his 4-year-old season, Captain Chessie was gelded.

"That really turned him around," said Horning. "He was a hyper horse who has since become much more tractable."

And much more consistent.

Making his first start as a gelding last December, Captain Chessie took a seven-furlong allowance at Charles Town by nearly 15 lengths, and since stretching out beyond a mile, he hasn't been worse than fourth. Horning pointed him specifically to the 1 1/16-mile Taking Risks Stakes, and watched Captain Chessie pop out of the gate, set all the fractions, and roll home to win by four lengths. Captain Chessie was the only non-stakes-winning starter in a field of five that inculded heavy favorite Cherokee's Boy. In recording his seventh victory from 27 starts, Captain Chessie has now earned $197,325.

Captain Chessie is from the old Maryland family of Bannockburn, a stakes-winning Maryland-bred daughter of Count Brook. Bannockburn produced 10 foals to race, all winners, including graded stakes winners Bella Chiarra (an earner of $636,088) and David Copperfield ($561,983), stakes winner Hollywood Flash, and four additional stakes-placed runners. Her daughter Poppy's Passion (by Miswaki) is still, according to Horning, the most talented of any runner he has trained. Injuries curtailed her career - she managed only three starts, but won two and was second once.

"She was so fast - I say she was too fast for her leg," said Horning, who noted that Poppy's Passion repeatedly suffered injuries to her right front leg.

Poppy's Passion, who is boarded at Laurie and Jerry Calhoun's Summer Wind Farm in Libertytown, Md., has been a solid producer since her retirement in 1991, with 4 winners from 5 starters. Her daughter Miss Pop Carn, by Carnivalay, earned $61,934 and recorded seconds in the Grade 3 Boiling Springs Handicap and Candy Eclair Stakes after being claimed from the Hornings. Miss Pop Carn is Poppy's Passion's only filly.

Horning has high hopes for another of Poppy's Passion's foals, the 2-year-old Terrific Tom, a son of Southern Halo who is close to getting to the races. In recent years, Poppy's Passion has been bred to stallions from similar lines who have done well in the family in the past. Top colts David Copperfield and his full brother Smithfield were by Halo, and Horning hopes Terrific Tom (a grandson of Halo) follows suit. Poppy's Passion produced a colt by Awesome Again in May and was bred back to Disco Rico, but didn't conceive on the late cover.

"We would love to get a filly out of her," said Horning. "We want to keep the family going."