08/26/2004 11:00PM

Lovely Afternoon puts Two Sisters in spotlight

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When the filly Lovely Afternoon shipped back to her home state of Pennsylvania and won the Blue Mountain Juvenile Stakes last fall, her powerful victory as odds-on favorite barely registered as a blip on the radar screen for followers of local 2-year-olds.

That's because all of the attention was focused on the winner of the another stakes for statebred youngsters - a rocket-fast colt named Smarty Jones.

Now Lovely Afternoon is getting her share of recognition. This summer, not long after Smarty Jones's Kentucky Derby and Preakness-winning career ended all too abruptly, she has blossomed into a graded stakes winner.

Defying her odds of more than 17-1, Lovely Afternoon (by Afternoon Deelites) dead-heated with Catboat for victory in the Grade 3 Arlington Breeders' Cup Oaks on Aug. 21 at Arlington Park. It was the fourth win in a dozen career starts for Lovely Afternoon, who campaigns for Richard Otto Stables and Arlington-based trainer Tony Mitchell. A winner on dirt and turf, at distances ranging from six furlongs to a 1 1/8 miles, Lovely Afternoon is expected to make her next appearance in the Grade 3 Pucker Up Stakes on the grass on Sept. 18.

Lovely Afternoon is unlikely to make her breeder, Deborah Rush, famous along the lines of Smarty Jones's breeders Roy and Pat Chapman, but she has gone a long way toward putting Rush's small commercial operation, located in Coatesville, Pa., on the map.

Rush, who operates under the name Two Sisters Farm, bred Lovely Afternoon from the first broodmare she purchased - Lovely Later, an unraced daughter of Green Dancer and the Key to the Mint mare Fate's Reward, who cost $42,000 (in foal to Not for Love) at the 1999 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic December mixed sale.

Aiming to be strictly a market breeder, Rush sold Lovely Afternoon for $52,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. But parting with her first homebred was not easy. "This filly was exceptional from day one," Rush said. "She had a wonderful presence, and she was smart."

Fortunately for her, Rush still owns Lovely Later, whose Two Punch colt brought $140,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale. The mare did not produce a live foal for 2003 or 2004, but is currently in foal to Gulch.

Rush established her farm in 1999, after a six-year career on the show jumping circuit. "I had an accident and decided it was time to stop being on the road," she said. "Then I happened to find this property, so I landed here by default."

Her family is originally from Pennsylvania, but Rush grew up as, she said, a "horse-crazy city girl" in San Francisco, where she briefly practiced law in the early 1990's. An inheritance from her mother allowed her to pursue her dreams with horses.

The farm name, Two Sisters, comes from two show mares Rush once owned, and also recognizes Rush's sister, whom she describes as a silent partner. "My sister isn't financially involved with the farm, but she has given me a lot of emotional support - both now and when I was on the show circuit," Rush said.

Rush lives at the 80-acre Two Sisters Farm with her 4-year-old daughter, Isabel, and maintains a half-dozen broodmares, including Lovely Afternoon's 4-year-old unraced half-sister, Married for Money, who is in foal to More Than Ready and will be consigned to the Keeneland November sale. Other mares of on the farm are in foal to Smoke Glacken, Storm Boot, and Stormy Atlantic.

"I'm extremely attached to the horses I raise," said Rush, who has relied on bloodstock agent Russell Jones as her advisor from the outset. Rush also gives much of the credit to her farm crew, Hannah Lewis and Antonio Rubio Palacios. "It's more than just making money - although it is a business," she said.