08/05/2003 11:00PM

Hot sires sometimes fly under radar

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Look for Northern Afleet in the list of leading second-crop sires and you'll be looking for a while. He ranks 31st, according to the latest Equineline statistics.

Search for a graded winner by him, and your search will do nothing but exhaust you. He has not sired a graded winner.

But look up the success of his offspring as first-time starters, and suddenly he starts looking like Carson City. Northern Afleet's foals have won 9 of 31 races in which they have debuted (29 percent). Another 13 have finished second or third, reflecting an in-the-money percentage of 71.

Yet he isn't on the radar screen of many handicappers. Up until a few weeks ago, he wasn't on mine, either. I remembered him winning some graded stakes on the West Coast in the late 1990's - he won the Grade 2 San Fernando, Grade 2 San Carlos, and Grade 3 San Diego - but in terms of his ability as a sire, I didn't pay him any notice. Neither did anyone else, apparently.

If a gambler had wagered on all of his first-out runners, he would have almost doubled his money. The nine winners went off at an average of 4.3-1, and four of his offspring finished second in their debuts at odds of 22-1 or higher.

It hasn't been just his first-timers that have done well. The combined record of his U.S. runners is 39 for 183 (21 percent). Any progeny win percentage above 15 percent is well above average.

Given the buzz that took place last year when Elusive Quality's babies won so frequently at first asking, why have Northern Afleet's accomplishments been overlooked?

He lacks a "big" horse. Northern Afleet, a son of Afleet and the Nureyev mare Nuryette, has sired just one black-type stakes winner, G P Fleet, who won a turf stakes at Ellis Park this summer. His richest runner is Paris Adventure, who has made $82,144 in 11 races.

By contrast, leading second-crop sires Distorted Humor and Grand Slam have such foals as Funny Cide and Strong Hope, respectively, to keep them in the public's eye.

That Northern Afleet has gone largely unnoticed is good news for horseplayers who bet pedigrees. Wagering on expensive sons of Storm Cat and A. P. Indy results in betting on underlays, no matter how talented they are.

You can, however, uncover "value" sires like Northern Afleet that slip through the cracks. Thankfully, Northern Afleet is not the only promising young stallion who has received little fanfare.

I like to search for these types by digging through the leading-sires lists found in racing publications. I begin by isolating sires with fewer starters than the leaders, and then focus further on those sires whose overall progeny earnings are less influenced by one successful horse.

For example, a sire like Deputy Commander would not fall on my target list. He is fourth on the second-crop standings, but one horse of his, Ten Most Wanted, has accounted for a third of his 2003 progeny earnings.

But such sires as Lucky Lionel, Will's Way, and Concerto would make my early "value" list because they have had fewer starters, and, despite lacking a major earner, they have done well as sires. They have sired good everyday horses, the type you might find running successfully in a midlevel race during the week.

With computers, the research can then be taken a step or two further. A good plan is to download a stallion progeny report on the sires of interest. The past performances on the sire's foals can also be printed. This gives handicappers the ability to see for themselves how they do first out, how they fare when stretched out, and how they perform on turf.

Some progeny computer reports give you the names of all of a sire's named foals. This proves rewarding with unraced babies. They can then be plugged into Stable Mail, and regardless of where they race, an e-mail will be sent, alerting the Stable Mail user that they have been entered to race.

That way, there is no more frustration of missing out on a play at a small track not ordinarily followed. That is key with a sire like Northern Afleet: His debut winners have come everywhere from Monmouth to Albuquerque.