08/12/2004 11:00PM

At last, respect on the way for Devil His Due

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Roses in May won the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, he became the first Grade 1 winner for his sire, Devil His Due. Before this weekend, the reflected glory of Grade 1 success had eluded Devil His Due since his retirement. A winner of 11 races and more than $3.9 million, Devil His Due was a Grade 1 specialist as a racer, winning five and running in the money in 11 other Grade 1 stakes.

Before Roses in May, the best runner sired by Devil His Due was the high-class filly She's a Devil Due, who won the Alcibiades at Keeneland and then ran third in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

The sire of nearly two dozen stakes winners, Devil His Due has climbed to national prominence as a sire because of the soundness and athleticism of his runners. And winners at the track bring breeders to the stallion.

Ken Ramsey, owner of Roses in May, said, "We bred seven mares to Devil His Due this year based on the fact that Roses in May was looking like such a good horse, that Ten Cents a Shine [also by Devil His Due] was our Derby horse last year, and that we'd had a couple other really useful racehorses by him."

Ramsey also appreciates value. Devil His Due stands at Margaux Farm for $7,500 live foal, which makes him one of the more attractively priced leading sires. Lucy Clare, who handles the research at Margaux, said Devil His Due "currently ranks 18th on the general sire list and has the lowest stud fee for any Kentucky stallion in that group."

Despite the stallion's race record, Devil His Due has a reputation as breeding's Rodney Dangerfield, and that lack of respect has had an effect on the horse's reception at the sales. Also, Steve Johnson, president of Margaux, said: "Historically, the Hail to Reason line has not been a very popular line. Look at the reception of Sunday Silence, Southern Halo, or Halo himself. Initially, Saint Ballado wasn't popular, but he kind of turned it around."

Although there has been a certain market resistance to him, Devil His Due's positive qualities attract some breeders. Johnson and his associates have managed to breed him to "more than a hundred mares every year," he said.

"Ken Ramsey has recognized the benefits of this horse for a long time," Johnson said. "He bred mares to the horse this year, has bought yearlings by him, claimed a few also."

And now Ramsey said he has "probably the best horse I've ever had in Roses in May, and he was the best-looking horse I'd ever had before that. I've got four other horses aiming for the Breeders' Cup, but none of them looks like this horse. My Cup runneth over."

In fact, Roses in May was so good looking that he turned the head of trainer Allen Jerkens, who trained Devil His Due.

"We had Roses in May on the track down at Gulfstream last year, and the Chief [Jerkens] was sitting on his pony," said Ramsey. "The Chief asked the assistant who that colt was by, and when they told him, the Chief said, 'That's the best-looking Devil His Due I've ever seen.'

"Now he's the first Grade 1 winner for Devil His Due. It's not the most fashionable pedigree for a stallion, but this horse can run and can set the pace. He might make me a nice stallion, because he does have that early speed."

Owner of Ramsey Farm in Kentucky, Ramsey and his wife, Sarah, breed and race a sizable stable. They also have stood stallions on their farm, supporting them with their own mares and trying to make a sire.

But that is only a possibility for the future. Now, there is plenty of racing opportunity for Roses in May.

"The Breeders' Cup Classic is the ultimate goal," Ramsey said. "The Kentucky Cup Classic would give us beautiful spacing between the races, or we could go for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. And the same weekend, there's the Hawthorne Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter."

Unlike many of the horses Ramsey races, Roses in May isn't a homebred. Instead, Ramsey bought Roses in May at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's April sale of 2-year-olds in training and then sent him to Todd Pletcher as a 2-year-old.

The sales price of $115,000 was the highest for a juvenile by Devil His Due in 2002, although the price was not especially high for a promising 2-year-old.

"We try to get the athlete," said Ramsey. "We don't get the first-round draft choices. The most expensive horse we bought that year was Roses in May."

Looks like he may also be the best.