12/10/2004 1:00AM

How 'Sweet' it can be at top of list


In the fall of 1997, a chestnut 2-year-old colt named Sweetsouthernsaint made a successful debut going a mile at Calder Race Course. Before the race there was considerable railbird chatter surrounding the horse, who was trained by Leo Azpurua Jr. and owned by Harold Plumley. The word was that this son of Saint Ballado was something special, and so he proved to be.

Sweetsouthernsaint followed his eight-length debut victory with a five-length allowance win at 1 1/16 miles and topped off an unbeaten 2-year-old season with an easy win in the Grade 3 What a Pleasure Stakes, also at 1 1/16 miles.

Sweetsouthernsaint's classic hopes were dashed in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream in January, when he suffered a tendon injury finishing third to Cape Town and Comic Strip. Sweetsouthernsaint did not race again until the following year at Belmont, where, under the tutelage of trainer Michael Dickinson, he won his turf debut. His repair job, however, did not hold up, and after Sweetsouthernsaint finished unplaced in his next and final start, he was retired.

"He was an easy sell and a hard sell as a stallion prospect," said Plumley Farm's general manager, Richard Kent.

Sweetsouthernsaint was an easy sell in that Ocala Stud quickly agreed to stand him. But his middle-distance racing record was bound to generate some skepticism in terms of his passing on speed. Still, at a fee of $2,500, Sweetsouthernsaint mustered surprising breeder appeal. He was bred to 90 mares his first season, 77 the next, 121 last year, and 47 this year.

If Successful Appeal or Yes It's True had not relocated to Kentucky, either would have been atop Florida's leading freshman stallion list. Sweetsouthernsaint, most would have told you, would have been an unlikely candidate to be their heir apparent. Yet, he is on top of the standings in that category.

According to Kent, Sweetsouthernsaint has 13 2-year-old winners, including one in Panama. His U.S. runners have won almost a half-million dollars. Next on the freshman stallion list, by earnings, comes Running Stag (Adena Springs South) and Tiger Ridge (Hartley-DeRenzon Walmac South). Also in the hunt is Straight Man (Signature Stallions), whose get have earned approximately $425,000. Rounding out the top five is Dance Master (Padua Stables), at $400,000. He is the sire of graded stakes winner Flamenco.

Sweetsouthernsaint's stud fee, which had held at $2,500 live foal until now, has been raised to $3,500.

"He did it the old fashioned way: He earned it," Kent said.

Middlesex Drive joining Pennsylvania crowd

Middlesex Drive, owned by C. Steven Duncker, is moving to Godstone Farm in Pennsylvania. A chestnut son of Pine Bluff, Middlesex Drive is a three-time Grade 2 stakes winner and Grade 1 stakes-placed earner of $746,819. His first crop races in 2005.

Middlesex Drive joins no fewer than eight stallions who previously stood in Florida but who have been moved on to Pennsylvania.