10/24/2003 12:00AM

Juvenile Fillies: Wertheimers eye another moment


ARCADIA, Calif. - A force in European racing since the mid-1900's, the Wertheimer family has had its moments in North America, as well.

In 1993, Kotashaan capped a sensational campaign by winning the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita en route to being crowned Horse of the Year. Three years later, Dare and Go was etched in racing lore when he won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar to end Cigar's 16-race winning streak.

Saturday, brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer will shoot for another memorable North American moment when their homebred Halfbridled starts as the favorite in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita.

"I just hope she'll do well," Alain Wertheimer said. "I don't like having a favorite as a rule. She deserves to be a favorite. We'll know how much she deserves to be the favorite after the race."

Alain, 55, and Gerard, 53, are the third generation of the French family that owns the Chanel perfume manufacturing company. According to Forbes Magazine, the Wertheimers rank 67th on the world's billionaires' list, with an estimated worth of $4.5 billion. While Alain doesn't grant interviews about Chanel, he is more open about his racing operation.

Alain's grandfather, Pierre, started the racing operation in the early 1900's and campaigned English classic winners Lavandin, who won the 1956 Epsom Derby, and Mesa, who won the 1000 Guineas in 1935. Pierre died in 1965 and his widow took over the operation. The Wertheimers were France's leading owner in 1972.

Jacques Wertheimer, Alain and Gerard's father, took over the racing operation in 1974. He was France's leading owner in 1975, sweeping the 1000 Guineas with Ivanjica, the 2000 Guineas with Green Dancer, and the French Derby with Val de l'Orne. The filly Ivanjica became the first of two Wertheimer runners to win the Arc de Triomphe.

Alain and Gerard took over the racing operation in 1986 and slowly began to expand into North America. In 1993, Kotashaan was their first North American stakes winner. In addition to winning the Breeders' Cup Turf, Kotashaan won four other Grade 1 races: the San Juan Capistrano, Eddie Read, Oak Tree Invitational, and San Luis Rey.

"That horse was a fantastic horse and so much better in the States than he was in Europe," Wertheimer said. "[Trainer] Dick Mandella did a good job with him."

While winning the Breeders' Cup Turf was a great achievement for the Wertheimers, Dare and Go's upset was even more exhilarating.

"The most exciting races to win are the ones which are unexpected, and the most exciting was when Dare and Go beat Cigar because there was shock and surprise," Wertheimer said. "When you're the favorite you can lose and you're disappointed. When it's slightly unexpected, it's much better."

While the bulk of the Wertheimer racing operation remains based in France, they have made a more concerted effort to expand to North America. Gone are the days when the Wertheimers would take all their best-bred horses back to Europe. Now, several progeny of such top sires as A.P. Indy, Broad Brush, Elusive Quality, Forest Wildcat, and Pulpit now stay in the U.S. with trainers Mandella, Todd Pletcher, and Michael Stidham.

"We're using a big pool of purely U.S. stallions, and depending on what happens, normally they'll stay here," said Wertheimer, who also has an interest in the Mile and Special Ring, a horse he bred.

Halfbridled is a product of the mating of Unbridled and Half Queen. Wertheimer purchased Half Queen for $325,000 out of the 1996 Keeneland November sale. Though she displayed talent, she was not very sound, according to Mandella, and won just one of six starts, earning $43,420.

Wertheimer wasn't sure Half Queen and Unbridled would be a good match, so he called Mandella to ask his opinion. Mandella said it would be a perfect match.

As the Wertheimers expand their North American operation, they hope to be a player in the sport's major events. The Wertheimers were briefly on the Triple Crown trail earlier this year with Indy Dancer, but Indy Dancer disappointed in preps such as the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial, and has been sidelined since the spring. Indy Dancer has been working regularly at Belmont Park and is likely to return to the races next month.

Many of this year's 2-year-old colt crop have not started and next year could be a down year here for the Wertheimers as they were hit hard by the mare reproductive loss syndrome that struck Kentucky in 2001.

"It was a disaster," Wertheimer said. "We lost all of our A.P. Indy's. All of the expensive ones were gone."

But there is still Saturday, when Wertheimer will get his first opportunity to see Halfbridled race.

"The only thing that would disappoint me in the race would be if the horse doesn't give its performance," Wertheimer said. "To get beat is part of the game. When the horse doesn't perform at all, that's disappointing."