04/08/2005 12:00AM

Huff's Jet Set Citi tackles stakes runners


Sam Huff, Hall of Fame football player and founder of the West Virginia Breeders Classics, has always played to win.

"If I lose, I want to know why," said Huff, 70, the middle linebacker who helped the New York Giants win six division titles between 1956 and 1963, and a world championship in 1956.

So Huff initially resisted the idea of rushing his homebred 3-year-old filly Jet Set Citi into stakes company, three weeks after she won her maiden debut.

"[Trainer] Hamilton Smith recommended it, and I went along with him," said Huff, who emphasizes a team approach in his racing and breeding operation.

The bold tactics paid off, as Jet Set Citi scored by the bob of a nose in the Smart Halo Stakes on April 2 at Laurel. Despite her owner's misgivings, Jet Set Citi was backed down to 7-5 favorite and gave a powerful performance. Forced far wide in the stretch while rallying from just off the pace, she maintained her focus when bumped by pacesetter Missile Bay and outdueled that rival to the wire.

Huff's new racing star is a Virginia-bred, having been foaled at Albemarle Stud in Free Union. But like many of Huff's projects, she has ties that extend throughout the racing world.

Jet Set Citi's pedigree traces back on both sides to Country Life Farm, the Pons family's establishment in Bel Air, Md.

She is the first stakes winner from the first crop of her sire, Unbridled Jet, a graded-placed son of Unbridled who stands at Country Life. Unbridled Jet's most precocious runner to date, Jet Set Citi highlighted a big day for Unbridled Jet, whose son Unbridled Buck won his first start earlier on Laurel's April 2 card.

Huff owns a share in Unbridled Jet, which he purchased after seeing the horse when he went to stud. "When I saw him, I liked him so much," said Huff, who does not currently own shares in any other stallions. "I've had great expectations for him from the beginning."

Jet Set Citi's dam, Talk of the Citi, is a 13-year-old daughter of Country Life's long-successful sire Citidancer. Huff bought Talk of the Citi for $24,000, in foal to Allen's Prospect, at the 2001 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky February sale, and bred only two foals from her before reselling her (in foal to Allen's Prospect) for $14,000 at the 2003 Keeneland January sale. Talk of the Citi's 4-year-old Allen's Prospect filly, Like a Breeze, also races for Huff, and is a modest winner.

Huff has four horses in training - Jet Set Citi, plus three at Hickory Tree Farm with trainer Larry Campbell. "I didn't make enough money playing football to keep more than four at one time," he said.

His breeding operation at 23-acre Huff Farm/Sporting Life Stable in Middleburg, Va., consists of four broodmares, three belonging to Huff and one to his partner, Carol Holden.

Although relatively small in numbers, Huff's breeding and racing enterprise has come up with some noteworthy performers during his 19 years in the business.

In 1990, Huff and Holden paid $10,000 for a Cormorant yearling filly at a Timonium auction conducted by the now-defunct Equivest sales company. Sold early in her career for a considerable profit, that runner - Saratoga Dew - won the Eclipse Award as the nation's champion 3-year-old filly in 1992.

Huff's all-time star performer was Bursting Forth (1994, by Alwasmi), a homebred who won or placed in nine stakes, including three graded stakes victories. Retired to Huff's broodmare band, Bursting Forth had only three foals before her death from foaling complications in 2004. Her foal that year, by Gone West, also died. But Huff has high hopes for Bursting Forth's final foal, a 2-year-old filly by Saint Ballado.

"This is a tough business, a lot tougher than football," said Huff. "But you never know when another good one is going to come along."