01/27/2006 12:00AM

Luftikus the latest standout sire for Casey

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The West Virginia Thoroughbred breeding industry has experienced extreme highs and lows over the last few decades, but there has remained one constant presence - James W. Casey and his farms full of sire power. For more than three decades, Casey's stallions have been fixtures on the state's leading sire lists. But West Virginia's perennial leading breeder unveiled his most promising prospect to date when Luftikus, a 10-year-old son of Meadowlake out of the Conquistador Cielo mare Andora, debuted as the Mid-Atlantic region's leading first-year sire of 2005 and ranked among the top 25 freshmen sires nationally.

Over the years Casey has stood West Virginia stalwarts Dancing Czar, Weshaam, and My Boy Adam - all past leading sires in the state. But Casey said of Luftikus, "I think he is the best one at this point in the game."

With 39 foals in his first crop to race last year, Luftikus got eight winners, including three stakes horses.

Luftikus's first winner came in July, when Hold on Tight - bred, owned, and trained by Casey's son John - dominated in a maiden special weight at Charles Town, winning by more than 13 lengths. Hold on Tight was stakes-placed three times by the end of the year.

Shesagrumptoo was the first of Luftikus's stakes winners, taking the first division of Charles Town's West Virginia Futurity in November. Bred by Robert Lloyd in West Virginia, Shesagrumptoo is owned by Mark Russell and trained by Casey's son James M. Casey. With total earnings of $58,251, Shesagrumptoo ranks as her sire's leading earner.

On the final day of last year, the Casey family's homebred Luftikus gelding Rhythmic Moves scored in the seven-furlong Henry P. Mercer Memorial Stakes in just his third start. Finishing third behind Rhythmic Moves was Hold on Tight.

"His runners have gotten better as they've gone farther," Casey said.

In 2005, Luftikus had 20 starters who earned a total of $287,917, and their precociousness caught Casey somewhat by surprise. But Casey has always been impressed by the quality of the Luftikus offspring.

"His foals have been superior compared to others out of the same mares," said the breeder. "And they are smart."

Casey, the 75-year-old patriarch of the family-owned Taylor Mountain Farm in Charles Town, W.Va., began breeding horses full time in the mid-1980's with his late wife, Eleanor, after West Virginia launched its bonus program for statebred horses.

In less than 10 years, the Caseys were the state's top breeders. They stood the Nijinsky II stallion Dancing Czar, who had tremendous success from limited opportunity, getting Grade 1 winner Sharp Dance in his first crop of eight foals. Dancing Czar also sired Taylor Mountain, the two-time West Virginia Breeders Classic Stakes winner for whom the Caseys' farm is named.

The Caseys added Weshaam, a son of Fappiano, to their breeding program in 1988. In his first crop, Weshaam sired the family's standout runner Coin Collector, also a winner of the West Virginia Breeders Classic Stakes, the richest race on the Breeders Classics card. Weshaam, whose 15 crops to race have averaged less than 19 foals per crop, is the sire of 17 stakes winners and was named West Virginia stallion of the year eight times by the West Virginia Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

The Caseys brought in the stallion My Boy Adam (by Encino) in the 1990's, and he became the first West Virginia sire to top $1 million in progeny earnings in one year, hitting the mark in 1999. My Boy Adam has sired 17 stakes winners from 11 crops, including Rebellious Dreamer, another Breeders Classic Stakes winner.

When considering stallion prospects, Casey likes to find a horse from a good sire line who has demonstrated racing ability.

"But most of it is just luck," he said.

Hesitant at first to take on a son of Meadowlake, Casey was impressed by Luftikus physically, and the horse sported a record of two stakes wins, including a track-record-equaling performance in winning the Grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. He was never off the board in 10 starts.

Casey, along with numerous friends in the business, set out to support the new stallion, and Luftikus covered 75 mares his first season. The big chestnut stallion, described by Casey as having a great disposition - "like a pony" - stands for $2,500.

"It's hard to make a stallion in West Virginia," said Casey. "It's difficult trying to get the best mares to him."

With his impressive start, Luftikus may not have that problem in the future.