03/26/2004 1:00AM

Nothing elusive about this sire's quality

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Although Elusive Quality is not well known to the general public, this son of Gone West has become a favorite among perceptive breeders, and with racers such as Smarty Jones, winner of last weekend's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, Elusive Quality is destined to become more and more popular.

Members of the stallion's second crop are now 3-year-olds, and from his first two crops, Elusive Quality has sired 14 stakes winners. They include a Group 1 winner in Elusive City, who was also the highweight juvenile colt in France in 2002. Elusive Quality's freshman crop has 11 stakes winners, which amounts to the strongest start for a stallion in many years.

In an earnings race that went down to the wire, Elusive Quality was the leading freshman sire in 2002, but he lost the title when Elusive City was disqualified from two purses in England because of the presence of a prohibited substance. The leading freshman sire title then went to Distorted Humor, who reaped most of the headlines in 2003, when his son Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Both stallions are quite similar in the lines of their pedigrees and in apparent racing aptitude. Both are by sons of Mr. Prospector. Elusive Quality is by Gone West; Distorted Humor is by Forty Niner. Both are out of mares by sons of Northern Dancer. Elusive Quality is out of the Hero's Honor mare Touch of Greatness; Distorted Humor is out of the Danzig mare Danzig's Beauty.

Elusive Quality and Distorted Humor are both sprinter-milers. They had exceptional speed over sprint distances and could stretch out to a mile or a bit more. Their speed figures bear out the level of their ability, as Elusive Quality, world record-holder for a mile on grass, broke the 120 level in Beyer Speed Figures, and Distorted Humor was not far behind.

In physique, however, they are quite different. Distorted Humor has the neatness and mid-size balance of a Forty Niner out of a nice Danzig mare. A muscular chestnut, he's almost cute.

Elusive Quality, on the other hand, is not exactly pretty. But he is breathtaking.

A big, rangy stallion, Elusive Quality has the substance and power of an ox. It is hard to imagine a horse that is more imposing and masculine. Yet he was also amazingly quick.

Unraced at 2, Elusive Quality showed excellent speed. He went through his conditions and ran second in the Grade 2 King's Bishop and third in the Tom Fool Handicap.

But Elusive Quality began his final season at the races with a large question mark over him. He was a horse of undoubted ability, one who had run faster times and higher Beyer Speed Figures in allowances than other horses could run in Grade 1 stakes. Yet, he entered his 5-year-old year having never won a stakes.

Elusive Quality began the year with a pair of allowance victories, the first with a Beyer of 123, but then lost the Metropolitan Handicap. The big bay bounced back to win consecutive graded stakes at Belmont: the Grade 3 Jaipur at seven furlongs and the Grade 3 Poker at a mile on turf. In the Poker, Elusive Quality set the world record for a mile of 1:31.63.

Since members of his first crop have showed how well they run, Elusive Quality has become accepted as one of the best young stallions in Kentucky. Currently, Elusive Quality stands for $50,000 at Gainsborough Farm outside Versailles, Ky.

Elusive Quality was bred in Kentucky by Mrs. J. Costelloe and Silver Springs Farm, who had acquired his dam, Touch of Greatness, for $115,000 from the 1990 reduction of breeding stock from Paul Mellon's Rokeby Farm.

"Opportunities to acquire nice young mares from really deep families are slim and far between," said Randy Roberts, farm manager at Silver Springs. "Unless someone is having a serious reduction, these families just don't come on the market."

Touch of Greatness had a good pedigree in terms of quality and depth, and she is a very robust mare.

"Touch of Greatness is wide, deep, and about 15-3 hands tall," Roberts said. "She's the thickest mare, shoulder to shoulder, on the farm, and she has the most capacity to carry a foal that I've ever seen."

And in Elusive Quality she produced an outstanding foal. "We sold him in January as a short yearling through Mike Ryan and Anthony Stroud," Roberts recalled. "Mike has been an adviser to the Costelloes and a friend of theirs for many years. When we were looking at Elusive Quality as a short yearling, determining when it would be best to sell the yearlings, Mike said, 'I think I need to get Anthony Stroud out here to look at him.' The colt was so strong and progressive-looking that anyone could see he was a really nice colt."

In addition to the good luck that Silver Springs has had in breeding two major stakes winners from Touch of Greatness - Elusive Quality and his half-brother Rossini - the farm sold an interest in the mare to Jayeff B Stables. And the partners have sold the mare's last two sales yearlings for seven-figure sums.

Both are full siblings to Elusive Quality. The 3-year-old is named Great Exhibition and, Roberts pointed out, he was to run in the UAE Derby in Dubai on Saturday.

Great Exhibition sold for $1.8 million at the Keeneland July sale in 2002, and his full sister brought $3.8 million at the Keeneland September sale last year. Both sold to Godolphin. The mare goes back to Gone West this year.