10/10/2001 11:00PM

Meet Mr. Maryland, Allen's Prospect

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WASHINGTON - The late Allen Paulson took his first plunge into the horse business in 1983, buying millions of dollars of yearlings at auction, hoping that one of them might win the Kentucky Derby. As trainer Ron McAnally began working with the youngsters, he observed that one of them possessed freakish speed in addition to good looks. One day he pointed to the bay colt and told Paulson: "There's your Derby prospect."

Only in fiction, of course, would that horse, Allen's Prospect, go on to be draped with roses at Churchill; real-life racing stories rarely work out so neatly. The colt had recurrent trouble at the starting gate that compromised his performances, and then a fractured bone cut short his career after he had won three unimportant races in California. "We never got the chance to see what his true ability was," McAnally lamented.

The trainer and owner couldn't have guessed that their colt would wind up making a lasting mark on the sport. Since he arrived in Maryland to begin his duties at stud, Allen's Prospect has had a remarkable career. Not only is he the leading stallion in the state but he has sired more winners this year and last than any other stallion in America. His prolificacy will be on display Saturday when the Maryland Million is run at Pimlico. Sixteen of the runners on the 11-race program are sons or daughters of Allen's Prospect.

Even though his racing career was abortive, Allen's Prospect had two of the prime ingredients for success as a sire: pedigree and speed. He is a son of the great stallion Mr. Prospector, whose sons often become top sires, and his female lineage is regal, too. As a racehorse he had been quick enough to run six furlongs in 1:08.60. Because he wasn't a stakes winner, Allen's Prospect didn't have the credentials to stand at stud at a major Kentucky farm. But he could find a niche in a state like Maryland. "We thought he had the chance to become a big fish in a small pond," said Michael Pons, who with his brother, Josh, runs Country Life Farm in Bel Air, Md.

Country Life had been searching for a son of Mr. Prospector that it could afford, and it paid about $250,000 for Allen's Prospect, hoping that he would pass on some of his sire's virtues to his offspring. Dozens of horses like him go to stud every year - ones with good pedigrees who didn't prove themselves as top racehorses - and they are hit-or-miss propositions. Their success or failure is determined partly by the mysteries of genetics, and partly by the support they get from breeders. If a young stallion gets bred to 10 undistinguished mares a year, he has almost no chance to make his mark. But Allen's Prospect got a golden opportunity.

Paulson always felt a sense of loyalty to his horses; he retained a one-quarter interest in Allen's Prospect, and sent many of his mares to be bred to him. Michael Pons recalled, "He sent the type of mares that we would never have seen otherwise - mares by Danzig and Northern Dancer. Local breeders saw what he was doing and said, 'If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.' "

The first foals of Allen's Prospect became 2-year-olds in 1990, and they were an immediate success. When they won both of the 2-year-old stakes races at the Maryland Million that fall, every breeder and owner in the state took notice.

Soon they saw that there was a distinct Allen's Prospect type. His offspring weren't likely to win the Kentucky Derby, because their forte was sprinting. They were apt to be fast, precocious, and durable runners who could give an owner a quick return on his investment and keep on earning. Over the years, 65 percent of his foals have won at least one race - a remarkable batting average. (Storm Cat, the nation's top stallion with a $500,000 stud fee, has 57 percent of his foals reach the winner's circle.)

Plenty of typical Allen's Prospect offspring are entered in the Maryland Million. The fast 2-year-old colt Final Table scored a front-running victory in a New Jersey stakes race and will be the favorite in the Nursery. Golden Made, who has scored five front-running victories in her last 10 starts, is a leading contender in the Distaff Handicap. In the Sprint Handicap, the leading contenders include the ultra-consistent In C C's Honor, a 7-year-old who has earned nearly $500,000, and Tyaskin, an 8-year-old who has finished first or second in his last eight starts.

With a modest $12,500 stud fee, Allen's Prospect's services are in demand, and he meets the demand; last year he was bred to 121 mares and got the majority in foal with one attempt. (Josh Pons likens his efficiency to "Roger Clemens throwing fastballs.")

And with so many of his offspring winning so many races, he has made his statistical mark nationally. In the Blood-Horse Magazine's definitive ranking of the year's top sires, based on total earnings by all of a stallion's progeny, he is No. 11 in the nation. Right behind him on the list are Seattle Slew and Unbridled, two Kentucky Derby winners with stud fees of $300,000 and $200,000, respectively.

Though he'll always be regarded as a blue-collar type of stallion, Allen's Prospect is in some pretty elite company.

(c) 2001, The Washington Post