07/30/2004 12:00AM

Mud Route gains respect


DEL MAR, Calif. - The victory by Senor Fango in Wednesday's $125,000 Graduation Stakes at Del Mar gave his young sire, Mud Route, his first stakes winner, and a boost at an ideal time.

Senor Fango is part of Mud Route's second crop to race.

"Finally we've got the black cloud off of Mud Route," said Rick Taylor, who owns Special T Thoroughbreds in Temecula, Calif., where Mud Route stands. "We're trying to prove a stallion in one of the toughest areas in the world, Southern California."

Mud Route had notable runners in his first crop last year, including Bronze Route, Daddy's Princess, and Mud Light, but they have yet to win a top race. Daddy's Princess finished sixth in the Grade 2 Oak Leaf Stakes and eighth in the California Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall at Santa Anita.

A few other promising youngsters did not reach the stakes level, Taylor said.

"We've had some terrible luck with several of his babies," he said. "The second crop seems to be a little stronger."

Senor Fango did not seem like a stakes candidate in early July. After losing four maiden special weight races in the spring, Senor Fango started in a $62,500 claiming race for maidens at Hollywood Park on July 4. He dusted four opponents by 7 1/2 lengths.

The win convinced Jerry Dutton, the owner, breeder, and trainer of Senor Fango, that the colt deserved a chance in the Graduation Stakes against statebreds.

Senor Fango rallied from third to win by a half-length.

Dutton and his wife, Barbara, co-own and bred Senor Fango with longtime partner Vladimir Popovich. Senor Fango is out of the Believe It mare Creyente.

"Most of the people that breed to [Mud Route] don't breed for the commercial market, they are breeding to race," Taylor said.

Mud Route raced for Janis Whitham and was trained by Ron McAnally. Mud Route won 2 of 5 starts during his 2- and 3-year-old campaigns, and had his best season as a 4-year-old in 1998, winning 4 of his 8 starts.

The 1998 campaign was highlighted by wins in the Grade 2 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles at Hollywood Park and the Grade 3 San Diego Handicap over 1 1/16 miles.

Mud Route was unplaced in one start at 5, and finished his career with 6 wins in 14 starts and earnings of $672,040.

This year, Mud Route was bred to 50 mares, a number that exceeded Taylor's hopes.

"I expected less because he didn't have a stakes winner last year," he said.

Mud Route, who stands for $5,000, has a colt in the Del Mar yearling sale on Aug. 16.

"It's hard to get into Del Mar when you're competing with the General Meetings, Bertrandos, and In Excesses," Taylor said, referring to three top stallions in the state.

The Mud Route colt is consigned by Special T Thoroughbreds, agent, and is out of Cris the Swimmer, a winner of $363,702. Cris the Swimmer won the 1999 Cat's Cradle Handicap at Hollywood.

First win for sire Old Topper

Old Topper, the winner of four sprint stakes in 1997 and 1998, was represented by his first winner when Top Money won Thursday's fifth race at Del Mar. Top Money races for Tommy and Debbie Stull's Tommy Town Thoroughbreds of Santa Ynez, Calif., where Old Topper stands.

Top Money made her career debut on Thursday in a $40,000 claiming race for maiden California-bred 2-year-old fillies.

Old Topper, who stands for $3,500, won 7 of 25 starts and $655,861 in a four-year career. He is represented in the Del Mar sale by a colt and a filly.