06/02/2004 11:00PM

Once, maybe a fluke. But twice: Genius.


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Only two Kentucky Derby winners have been bred in Pennsylvania, and horseman Brent Fernung bought the dams of both those Derby winners before their classic successes. In addition to his pastime of buying the dams of Derby winners, Fernung is general manager of Cloverleaf Farm in Florida for John and Susan Sykes.

Fernung bought the dam of Smarty Jones, the Smile mare I'll Get Along, for Cloverleaf and had purchased the dam of Lil E. Tee privately for himself in the spring of 1992, the year Lil E. Tee won the Derby.

In acquiring the dam of Smarty Jones, Fernung recalled that he bought I'll Get Along at Keeneland in November of 2001 for $130,000.

He was attracted to the powerful bay mare because "she's got one of those Tartan pedigrees. She belonged to Genter Stable, but they had close ties to Tartan, and she reminded me of the mares I'd seen in the Tartan dispersal. She looks more like a big colt than a filly. She's kind of a masculine mare: big shoulder, big hip."

As a breeder in Florida, Fernung had plenty of exposure to the Tartan bloodstock, which John Nerud used to produce horses such as Horse of the Year Dr. Fager, champion sprinters Ta Wee and Dr. Patches, and Metropolitan Handicap winner Fappiano, along with many others.

"I was fortunate enough when Tartan went out of the business that I went through the entire broodmare band with the managers there," Fernung said, "and you could have slid this mare in between Killaloe"- the dam of Fappiano- "and a couple others, and she'd have been part of a matched set. She'd have fit in with their best mares. At the time we bought her, that might have seemed a little ambitious, but it looks pretty good right now."

When Fernung selected I'll Get Along for Cloverleaf, he had a shopping list of desirable qualities, and she fit the bill. He said the mare had "what I'm looking for: family, racing ability, and eye appeal. The weakest factor was that she was by Smile, but if I like everything else about a mare, I don't let the sire bother me. The deal with Smile was that he was pretty crooked, and she's real correct. I really want an athlete, and if you can get them correct that's one more step ahead."

As a good-looking stakes winner, I'll Get Along drew considerable attention at the sale. Fernung said: "The mare was the sales topper the day we bought her. That's how late in the week she was. I thought it was a pretty good marketing ploy at the time. I believe if she had sold a couple days earlier when her peer group was in there, she might have brought a little less. She was one of two horses I had to see that day, and the other one didn't have the physique I needed."

Russell Jones, who consigned the mare for the Chapmans, came up to Fernung following the sale and said, "This mare's got a pretty good foal by Elusive Quality."

Now, said Fernung, "He looks like a master of understatement."

Although Cloverleaf managed to buy I'll Get Along, all did not go well initially. Fernung noted that the foal she was carrying, a colt by Doneraile Court, died due to complications of foaling.

But the mare has been faultless since.

Fernung said that I'll Get Along is back in foal to Elusive Quality on an April 5 cover. Her yearling colt by Hennessy and her foal of 2004 by champion sprinter Orientate were both foaled in Florida.

Fernung had already planned her mating for this year and said: "We were originally planning on breeding her to Repent, a first-year stallion we have here on the farm, but when Smarty Jones won that 2-year-old stakes [the Pennsylvania Nursery] and earned an incredible Beyer number, I changed course."

Much as he wanted to support Repent, a classic prospect who had run second to War Emblem in the Illinois Derby and second to Medaglia d'Oro in the Travers, Fernung is very tuned in to the commercial market, and he knew that a repeat mating to the sire of a good horse could be worth its weight in gold.

Therefore, I'll Get Along and her foal were shipped back to Kentucky, where they boarded with Jimmy Lockhart at his Ballyrankin Stud near Lexington, Fernung said.

Lockhart said that I'll Get Along is "a nice mare with a lot of quality, and she had a fine-looking Orientate colt. She got in foal on one cover and was back in Florida for the Derby."

The continuing success of Smarty Jones through the winter and spring of 2004 has made the move to repeat the mating that produced him seem inspired, and Smarty has now elevated his relations' values into the stratosphere.

The Orientate colt, in particular, has drawn attention, as he is by a top-class sprinter, much like Elusive Quality. And, being from Orientate's first crop, the colt will have even more-than-average commercial appeal.

Fernung said the Orientate is "a nice colt who's growing and doing great. The mare's Hennessy yearling colt is big and rangy, kind of a typical Hennessy. I think I'm going to have a hard time getting the boss to part with him, though. He's one we might end up racing."

Could lightning strike twice? It already has for Fernung.