03/17/2006 1:00AM

Large-small mating produces mature talent

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Balance, winning the Santa Anita Oaks, is an early favorite to win the Kentucky Oaks in May.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Victory in the Santa Anita Oaks was the second Grade 1 success for Balance, a promising 3-year-old filly who is a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch and the Kris S. mare Vertigineux. The win makes her the filly to beat in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May.

On the basis of her current form, Balance is the best daughter of Thunder Gulch since Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain, but as similar as they are in talent, the two could hardly be more different in physique.

Whereas Spain was a charming filly who had talent and gameness in inverse proportion to her small size, Balance is a big, rangy filly who showed Grade 1 talent as a juvenile and has progressed greatly with maturity. Trained by David Hofmans, she will be even better as the distances of the top races increase, and this, as well as her size, makes her resemble Thunder Gulch's most famous offspring, Point Given.

A chestnut out of the Turkoman mare Turko's Turn, Point Given was a very big horse with outstanding power and stamina. Victorious in the Preakness and Belmont, Point Given won all his starts at 3 except for the Kentucky Derby and was both champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year.

Like Point Given, Balance is out of a large mare with considerable scope. Large mares tend to be sent to Thunder Gulch frequently, because Thunder Gulch, although he is a handsome and nicely balanced classic winner, is not very tall himself.

In contrast, Vertigineux "is a great, big Kris S. mare, and Balance is so much like her mother," according to Don Robinson, who raised Balance at his Winter Quarter Farm for breeder Eric Kronfeld.

Kronfeld said, "Vertigineux was a horse who wanted every inch of a mile and a quarter, and in talking to Dave Hofmans after Balance's last two races, he said that he felt this filly would be the same way."

In addition to size and physical type, Balance is also similar to Vertigineux in temperament. When going to the track, Balance indicates when and how she's ready to exercise.

"That's pretty much what you do with Vertigineux," Robinson said. "[Her offspring] are hotheaded, but in a good way; the good ones will channel that fire into their work and racing. Vertigineux had tremendous ability but was not sound."

With two victories in good company from seven starts and a pedigree showing three stakes-winning siblings, Vertigineux was retired to stud, and each of her first two foals is a stakes winner. Balance is not only Vertigineux's best foal, but the best horse in the direct family line since her fourth dam, Mrs. Peterkin, produced 1977 Kentucky Oaks winner Sweet Alliance.

While the recipe of sending large mares to smaller stallions is not a plan that will work every time, in the case of Thunder Gulch, the result can be extraordinary. Point Given had immense talent, and racing fans probably did not see his very best, since he appeared to be maturing and improving throughout his career.

When mated with Vertigineux, Thunder Gulch got a good-sized and growthy filly, and Balance grew into a fine yearling and sold like it. At the Keeneland September sale, Winter Quarter consigned her for Kronfeld's Maverick Productions, and she brought $260,000 from Amerman Racing.

The price for Balance was the fourth-highest for a Thunder Gulch yearling in 2004 and was the highest for a filly.

Kronfeld, an attorney in the entertainment business who lives in New York City, plans the matings for his broodmares. In planning the match of Vertigineux with Thunder Gulch, he said the "deciding factor was the absence of any duplication in the early generations, which was relatively easy with Vertigineux, because she has Kris S. on top and Forli on the bottom. Both are outcrosses to Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector. It seems to be the right nick. And at the time, Thunder Gulch had produced a covey of wonderful fillies."

The result was Balance. By foaling a Grade 1 stakes winner, Vertigineux has elevated herself to the top tier of producers and is currently in foal to Pulpit, due in early April. But what of her mate for 2006?

"For me, the only serious choices were Storm Cat himself, Giant's Causeway, or A.P. Indy," Kronfeld said. With Storm Cat well booked and age 23, and "since Pulpit is by A.P. Indy," Kronfeld said, "why not go to Giant's Causeway?"