09/24/2004 12:00AM

The man behind Park Avenue Ball is no newcomer

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Charles Hesse, a road builder and sand and gravel contractor with headquarters near Monmouth Park in New Jersey, is the breeder of one of the nation's current top 2-year-olds, Park Avenue Ball.

Park Avenue Ball, a New Jersey-bred son of Maryland sire Citidancer, turned Belmont Park's venerable Grade 2 Futurity Stakes upside down on Sept. 19, winning by three lengths and paying $23.60 as the longest-priced starter in the field of six. It was the third victory in four starts for Park Avenue Ball, who dominated Monmouth's Tyro Stakes on July 31 and missed by three-quarters of a length in the Grade 3 Sapling at Monmouth on Aug. 28.

Pointed next to the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes on Oct. 9 at Belmont, Park Avenue Ball could develop into a contender for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 30.

Park Avenue Ball is a great-grandson of the first horse Hesse owned, Southern Special (by Specialmante).

"I bought her in 1972 as a yearling in Florida on the advice of [trainer] Dan Perlsweig," Hesse said.

A winner of one of her 30 starts, Southern Special produced 11 foals, the best of whom, Special Mah (1979, Talc), won six stakes and earned $260,868.

Southern Special's eighth foal, Ms. Charity Ball (1987, Talc), retired as a maiden after four starts. But Ms. Charity Ball's daughter Road to the Ball (1993, Cahill Road) picked up some of the slack, winning or placing in 12 of 23 starts and earning $115,215.

Road to the Ball produced as her second foal Park Avenue Ball - Hesse's reward for more than 30 years of hope and effort.

"He's our best homebred," said Hesse, who breeds and races horses with his wife, Marianne, and campaigns Park Avenue Ball under the name Char-Mari Stable.

The Hesses have had major racing success with auction purchases, on their own and in partnership, including Storm Tower, Feasibility Study, and Unbridled Jet (whom Hesse considers the most talented of them all). Unbridled Jet campaigned for the Double H Stable of Marianne Hesse and Norma Hess, and was sold for stud duty to the Pons family's Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md.

The Hesses retained several breeding rights in Unbridled Jet (a son of Unbridled), whose first crop are 2-year-olds. It was Josh Pons, Country Life's manager, who helped the Hesses decide on a mating for Road to the Ball.

"We couldn't breed Road to the Ball to Unbridled Jet because his sire and hers are full brothers," said Hesse, who owns 14 broodmares boarded at farms in Maryland and Kentucky and at Greenfields Farm in Colts Neck, N.J., where Park Avenue Ball was foaled. "So Josh suggested we breed her to their horse Citidancer."

A 17-year-old son of Dixieland Band, Citidancer has proven ability as a sire of top-class runners, notably Grade 1 winners Urbane ($1,018,568) and Hookedonthefeelin. But he was a sprinter, and he is best-known as a sire of sprinters.

"We knew after Park Avenue Ball's first race that he had ability," said Hesse. "But I was concerned about him getting a mile in the Futurity. Jim Ryerson, his trainer, wasn't concerned, and he was right. I can't say enough about Jim's handling of this colt. He deserves a lot of credit."

The Hesses have 15 horses in training, with Ryerson as well as trainers Todd Pletcher, George Gross, and Jason Servis.

"It's just been a tremendously exciting business to be in," said Hesse, whose ties with New Jersey racing extend beyond owning horses. He operates the company founded by his father, Charles Hesse Jr., which built the Monmouth Park racing strip in 1945.

"I rebuilt it in 1978 and '79," said Hesse. "Then in 1979, I won the first stakes run over the new track, with C. J.'s Boy [by New Jersey sire Slady Castle]. I think it was the first stakes I'd ever entered."

And a big step on the road to his present success.