01/23/2004 12:00AM

Much potential, even more to learn


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Vindication, 2002's champion juvenile, may not be in training anymore, but he's still busy. These days, he's in training for his new profession as a stallion at Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington.

Vindication, who will stand for $50,000, arrived at the farm late in the summer after owner Satish Sanan and trainer Bob Baffert determined there wasn't enough time to bring the colt back from a suspensory injury for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Since then, Vindication's constant companion has been Aidan O'Meara, the farm's 26-year-old stallion manager.

O'Meara has overseen the transition of Vindication, a 4-year-old Seattle Slew colt, from racehorse to stallion. That transformation is more complex than it sounds. Fit racehorses, O'Meara points out, can sometimes be too exuberant in their early days of freedom in a spacious paddock, so it's crucial to the safety of both man and beast that a colt learn to become mannerly and relaxed as he walks around the farm and enjoys his turnout time. And racehorses know nothing about the breeding act, so they must also be taught the mechanical aspects of their new careers.

On Friday, Vindication had such a lesson at Hill 'n' Dale during a test breeding with a 10-year-old nurse-mare pony of indeterminate breeding. Vindication has done this four times since his arrival.

"It's basically a practice run for breeding season," O'Meara said. "The first time we take them in there, they mess around a little and don't really know what's going on. But once they get their acts together and figure out what nature wants them to do, they get more enthusiastic about it and figure out the technique to it."

The pony stood quietly, and Vindication had plenty of help, with five attendants in the breeding shed. O'Meara, as always, was holding the lead shank as Vindication mounted the mare a few times and finally covered her. The young stallion reared once or twice and bucked as he left the breeding shed, but, as O'Meara explained, he will be allowed to get away with such minor infractions temporarily.

"You have to be very patient with these younger horses," O'Meara said. "These horses that are off the track have spent all their time being chastised for showing any interest in mares, and then we bring them here and expect them to turn around and do the exact opposite of what they've always been told, and to go on and actually breed the mares. Patience is critical.

"It's crucial that we get these practice runs in and get his confidence up, because this mare is nice and quiet and just stands there, but the mares in the breeding season - and especially the maiden mares - are going to be a lot tougher on him."

Vindication has also been busy showing off for potential breeders. O'Meara said the busiest time was during the September and November sales, when he estimates about 35 people came in a single day to see Vindication. Some were tourists stopping by to see Seattle Slew's grave, too.

O'Meara, who helped attend to Seattle Slew when the stallion spent his final months at Hill 'n' Dale, has noticed some similarities between sire and son.

"He's a lot like his daddy," he said. "He has his dad's personality and some of the same quirks, like he doesn't like you rubbing on his belly. Seattle Slew wasn't a big fan of that, either.

"The thought was always in the back of the mind when Vindication came here, like maybe it was the second coming. He's got the best possible book of mares he could get here, lots of Grade 1 winners and producers, so he'll get every shot to make a sire."