Updated on 09/16/2011 7:44AM

John Ward and the case of Acting Op

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What's it like to have a Kentucky Derby-winning trainer choose your homebred as the best racing prospect among a group of 119 yearlings? "Astounding, and wonderful," said Karen Dempsey after John Ward, trainer of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, pinned the grand championship ribbon on her filly Acting Op (by Ops Smile) at the Maryland Horse Breeders Association's annual yearling show held June 30 at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

Dempsey and her husband, Warren, breed and race a small number of horses, primarily steeplechasers, from their 53-acre Reveille Farm in Monkton, Md.

Acting Op was conceived and raised at the Boniface family's Bonita Farm in Darlington, Md., and it was on the suggestion of John Boniface, who also happens to be the MHBA yearling show chairman, that Dempsey decided to participate as a first-time exhibitor. The major incentive was the opportunity to earn part of the yearling show purse premium: A total of $40,000 will be distributed among the exhibited yearlings who earn the most money while racing as 2- and 3-year-olds in North America.

"I had no inkling we'd win something at the show," said Dempsey, whose current yearling crop consists of this one filly. "Of course we plan to race her. If John Ward says she looks like a racehorse, that certainly is encouraging."

Described by Ward as "racey" and "well-built in front," the grand champion is a striking light gray, almost white. She is from the second crop of Ops Smile, a Maryland-bred turf star who won six stakes, including the 1997 Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap. Ops Smile is a son of 1983 Belmont Stakes winner Caveat and multiple stakes producer Northern Sting (by Northern Jove), a Maryland broodmare of the year. Ops Smile has made his entire stud career at Bonita Farm.

Two Bonita Farm stallions - Ops Smile and Swear by Dixie - were in close contention for the Worthington Farms Challenge Trophy awarded to the leading sire at the show. The grand championship class broke a four-way tie that included those two horses, and Northview Stallion Station's stallions Diamond and Not For Love.

Dempsey purchased Acting Op's dam Allepia, a stakes-placed daughter of Allen's Prospect, for $14,000 (in foal to Anjiz) at the 1997 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale. Acting Op is the fourth foal she has bred from the mare, who has a 2-year-old Ops Smile colt, Battle Op, aiming toward a flat racing career, and another Ops Smile filly awaiting next year's yearling show.

Perennially successful yearling show exhibitor Robert T. Manfuso took the reserve championship with a colt by Roy out of the Devil's Bag mare Devil's Miss, who also won the class for out-of-state-sired colts and geldings. Manfuso co-owns one of Maryland's premier sales consignment facilities, Chanceland Farm in West Friendship, Md.

The two classes for Maryland-sired colts and geldings went to Diamond Tip, a colt by Diamond-Tippy, by Dancing Count, exhibited by Allen and Pam Garst (Class 1); and a colt by Not For Love-Pot of Antics, by Anticipating, exhibited by Hindman Ltd. Partnership (Class 2). Allen Garst is an equine veterinarian practitioner in the Frederick/Westminster area. Jim and Dixie Hindman own Rich Meadow Farm near Westminster.

Bonita Farm exhibited the winner of the other class for Maryland-sired fillies, Stone Fleet, a daughter of Swear by Dixie out of the Dancing Count mare Seven Paces. The class for fillies sired by out-of-state stallions went to a daughter of Horse Chestnut-Clever Phrase, by Clever Trick, bred and owned by Dark Hollow Farm (David and Jo Ann Hayden).