09/13/2002 12:00AM

No wonder this colt intrigued Lukas

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The highest-priced yearling, at $2.4 million, on opening day of this week's Keeneland September sale was a handsome bay son of the great international sire Danzig and the Alydar mare Aquilegia. She is already the dam of the colt's full brother Bertolini, a group stakes winner in England, as well as stakes winner Amelia. The colt was bred by Helen Alexander, Dorothy Alexander Matz, and Helen Groves at Alexander's Middlebrook Farm outside Lexington, and he sold to D. Wayne Lukas, who purchased the colt on behalf of a partnership.

Helen Alexander said, "This colt has been a nice horse from the time he was foaled. He was slightly immature for a July yearling, and even at the sales he was still kind of a baby. It will be next year before he catches up, but he is going to be a fabulous-looking horse by then." He is already an elegant colt, and will make an interesting addition to the Lukas training program.

During the 1980's, Lukas frequently signed for yearlings at the sales and later put together the ownership for the individual horses, but the trainer had largely abandoned that practice during the past decade. Therefore, the purchase on Monday was atypical of Lukas and was characterized by some observers as a gutsy move that showed Lukas had exceptional interest in this colt.

Historically, there is a reason for Lukas to be interested. Nearly 20 years ago, he trained a close relative of this colt. That was champion Althea, a daughter of Alydar and Courtly Dee who was the leading 2-year-old filly of 1983 when she won the Hollywood Juvenile Championship (beating colts), the Del Mar Debutante by 15 lengths, the Del Mar Futurity (beating colts again), and the Hollywood Starlet. The next year Althea stuffed the colts in the Arkansas Derby, winning by seven lengths, and she was the stronger portion of the favored Lukas entry in the 1984 Kentucky Derby. Swale won the race, and Althea started only once afterward.

Althea was from the freshman crop by Alydar, and along with rival Miss Oceana, Althea propelled her sire into the limelight as one of the best sires in the world. Alexander and Groves saw the value of repeating this mating, and Courtly Dee produced three foals by Alydar. All were graded stakes winners, including Althea's full sister Aquilegia, who is the dam of the Danzig colt that Lukas bought for $2.4 million.

Although there were many other good horses to come from this family, Lukas had two of the early ones. Alexander recalled, "Wayne had Althea and Ketoh for us, and they were really top horses."

Althea, Cowdin winner Ketoh, and New York Handicap winner Aquilegia are all out of the stellar broodmare Courtly Dee, and the Danzig colt descends from one of the stud book's most distinguished families. Alexander said, "Courtly Dee was carrying Althea when we bought her. Lee Eaton had her before that, and he had bred Ali Oop, Native Courier, and the dam of Green Desert from her. And when we bought her, she was still a pretty young mare."

Althea was Courtly Dee's first foal for Alexander and partners, and Ketoh, a Grade 1 winner and full brother to multiple Grade 3 winner Native Courier (by Exclusive Native), was the third. But one of Courtly Dee's last good racers was Althea's full sister Aquilegia.

In all, Courtly Dee produced five graded stakes winners for Alexander and partners: Althea, Aquilegia, Aishah, Ketoh, and Twining. These are five of Courtly Dee's eight stakes winners, seven of whom won at the graded level.

Her daughters have carried on in good fashion, too. Althea produced Japanese champion Yamanin Paradise, Aurora, and Alyssum. Aurora, in turn, is the dam of Grade 1 winner Arch and two other stakes winners. Aishah has produced graded winners Aldiza and Atelier, and several other daughters of Courtly Dee also have produced stakes winners.

Aquilegia has done her part, producing Bertolini as her first foal. He sold for $750,000 at the Keeneland July sale in 1997 and was a very high-class horse racing for Godolphin in Europe. Although a Group 3 winner, Bertolini had multiple Group 1 placings but was notably limited in his distance capacity. Alexander said, "Physically, Bertolini was set by July of his yearling season. He was powerful and well developed, and he looked like a sprinter. This colt is a lot different. He shouldn't have any serious distance limitations."

In addition to the many important racehorses from this family, breeders value its depth and consistency in assessing value and the likelihood of success at stud, especially in a stallion. If the Danzig colt fulfills the high hopes that Lukas, Alexander, and others hold for him, he will be an immensely valuable addition to the stallion market.