04/22/2004 11:00PM

Lion Hearted the early leader of the pack

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Optimism abounds every spring with the new class of freshman sires. Maryland has five stallions - Cat Country, Crowd Pleaser, Lion Hearted, Purple Passion, and Unbridled Jet - whose first foals reach the races this year, and one has already jumped to the head of the class.

Lion Hearted, an 8-year-old who stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City, got his first winner on April 8 in Aqueduct's first juvenile race of the year, when first-time starter Chocolate Brown, a filly facing males, made easy work of her first assignment, winning by nearly six lengths.

Bred and owned by Dennis Drazin, Chocolate Brown was foaled in New Jersey - a fact not lost on Richard Golden, managing partner of Northview Stallion Station. "We get as many people who breed to our stallions from surrounding states, such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, as we do from Maryland," said Golden.

Lion Hearted, an impeccably bred graded stakes-placed sprinter by Storm Cat out of Grade 1 winner and producer Cadillacing, a daughter of Alydar and full sister to champion classic winner Easy Goer, has been getting mares from all over, especially this year. Lion Hearted's current book has Golden nearly in awe: "He's gotten 130 booked for this season, and 120 were in before his first runner. He has the biggest book of any stallion with first-crop runners that we've stood."

Lion Hearted's reputation has grown with each crop of foals, noted Golden: "Many people who bred one mare to him are now sending five mares."

Northview's policy has always been to offer its young stallions for an attractive stud fee to help boost the stallion's book, a formula that worked for Northview headliners Two Punch, Polish Numbers, and Not for Love. Lion Hearted, who has 47 first-crop runners, stands for $5,000 this year.

Another Northview Stallion Station first-timer is graded stakes winner Crowd Pleaser. A gorgeous dark bay son of A.P. Indy out of a Grade 1-winning juvenile, Creaking Board, Crowd Pleaser offers a different dimension to the roster - a turf runner who set a course record for 1 1/4 miles winning the 1998 Virginia Derby.

Crowd Pleaser stands for $3,500, and has a larger first crop than Lion Hearted, with 50 foals, but patience may be the name of the game. "He continues to be well supported, gets nice foals, and has all the credentials to be a sire," said Golden. "But we don't expect the precocity of Lion Hearted.

"We would expect to see his runners on the turf," said Golden, noting there aren't many 2-year-old turf races offered until later in the year.

Unbridled Jet, at Country Life Farm, also offers a different formula to the local breeding equation. "All of our early stallions have been sprinters," said Mike Pons, business manager of Country Life Farm. "He is our first horse with classic ability."

An 8-year-old son of Unbridled out of an Easy Goer mare, Unbridled Jet thrived at a distance of ground. He just missed winning the Grade 2 Pegasus Handicap and was an unlucky fourth in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

"We've bred a number of Allen's Prospect and Citidancer mares to him," said Pons, who noted that adding in some precocity and speed should help ensure that the foals "have some gas." Said Pons, whose family's Bel Air farm launched successful freshman sire Malibu Moon a year ago, "Unbridled Jet is going to get a real shot - his babies are all over the region. We're getting reports of workouts up and down the East Coast."

Unbridled Jet tops Maryland's freshman ranks in opportunities - he has 67 current 2-year-olds.

Shamrock Farms in Woodbine may have a sleeper in Purple Passion. A talented sprinter who earned more than $500,000 and won or placed in 15 stakes, five of them graded, 10-year-old Purple Passion has a crop of eight 2-year-olds. Reports from those who have them, says Shamrock's farm manager Jim Steele, are that "they are good-looking and moving forward quickly in their training. Pretty much everyone who has a Purple Passion has sent mares back to him."

Amy Hopkins Daney of Elberton Hill Farm looks forward to the Cat Country runners reaching the races. A 7-year-old Storm Cat stallion out of a half-sister (by Fappiano) to Horse of the Year Lady's Secret, owned in partnership by Elberton Hill Farm and Overbrook Farm, Cat Country has an initial crop of six foals, which includes three Elberton Hill-bred youngsters. Among those is the first foal out of Elberton Hill's stakes-placed runner Londonderry. Another Cat Country 2-year-old, named Storm Catchet, is currently in training at Pimlico.