05/03/2006 11:00PM

Owners have two shots at perfection

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Showing Up, with trainer Barclay Tagg (above), and Barbaro are both owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who race under the name of Lael Stable. They are the first owners to start two undefeated horses in the Kentucky Derby.

When Roy and Gretchen Jackson decided to increase their commitment to Thoroughbred racing in the late 1990's, they hoped to be able to participate in the sport's bigger events. They certainly didn't expect this.

On Saturday, when the Kentucky Derby is run for the 132nd time, the Jacksons - who race under the name Lael Stable - will start two undefeated horses in Barbaro and Showing Up. It will be the first time one entity has started two unbeaten horses in the world's most famous horse race. Moreover, the Jacksons will be watching the 2000 Guineas from Europe on Saturday morning because they bred George Washington, the favorite for that race.

"You always dream you might get a horse to get to the Derby," Roy Jackson, 69, said. "To have two to show some ability in the same year, we're still on Cloud 9."

"I think nobody's more surprised than I am," said Gretchen Jackson, Roy's wife of 47 years. "I've had more time to think about it than most people, and I still haven't swallowed it. Geez, we're the luckiest people in the world; thank you God for this, I hope we appreciate it."

If either Barbaro or Showing Up were to win, he'd become just the sixth undefeated winner of the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro, a son of Dynaformer who is 5 for 5 including a victory in the Florida Derby, would be the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win the Derby off a five-week layoff. Showing Up, a son of Strategic Mission who is 3 for 3 including a win in the Lexington Stakes, would be the first horse since Apollo in 1882 to win the Derby after having not raced as a 2-year-old.

In Barbaro, the Jacksons are here with a horse they bred. They purchased his dam, La Ville Rouge, after she placed in the Demoiselle at 2. She raced three seasons, winning 6 races from 25 starts and earning $262,594.

In Showing Up, the Jacksons are here with a horse they bought for a modest $60,000 on the advice of trainer Barclay Tagg. Showing Up was purchased out of the same Timonium, Md., sale that in 2004 produced Afleet Alex, who finished third in last year's Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness and Belmont.

"I thought it was a fair price, a good price, compared to how the 2-year-old in training sales were going these days," Roy Jackson said.

The Jacksons have been involved with horses for 30 years. Gretchen Jackson was involved with show horses and jumpers. The Jacksons have owned a 190-acre farm in West Grove, Pa., since 1978. Their farm is adjacent to Jonathan Sheppard's farm, whose fields once were home to the current super-stallion Storm Cat. Before delving into horse racing, Roy Jackson spent a good part of his life in baseball. Upon graduating from Pennsylvania University, Jackson went to work for Kidder Peabody, a brokerage firm in Philadelphia. He met an attorney who did some work for the Philadelphia Phillies, whose officials were starting up a training program in hopes of attracting young blood into the game.

Jackson would go on to own two minor league baseball teams - the York Pirates and the Tucson Toros - and became president of two minor league baseball leagues. In 1982, Jackson and two friends started Convest Inc., a company that represented major league baseball players. Among the company's most notable clients were New York Yankees catcher Jorge Posada and Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez.

Jackson sold the company in 2001 to a Chicago-based company and retired.

It was around this time that the Jacksons were upgrading their racing stock, primarily buying female horses to add to their broodmare band. In 1998, the Jacksons bought a half-interest in Belle Cherie from trainer Phil Johnson, and promptly won a stakes with her.

By March 2000, the Jacksons moved their entire stable from Graham Motion to Johnson. Included in that group was La Ville Rouge, the dam of Barbaro who won races on dirt and turf three weeks apart; C'est L'Amour, winner of the Grade 2 Nassau County and runner-up in the Grade 1 Acorn; and Love n' Kiss S., a filly the Jacksons bought for $900,000 and who won the Grade 3 Pebbles after being moved to trainer Christophe Clement.

The Jacksons also had horses in Europe, including Superstar Leo, who won the 2000 Cartier Award as England's top 2-year-old filly. The Jacksons now have 24 mares in the U.S and three in Europe.

By the end of 2000, Johnson had kicked the Jacksons out of his barn. After having minimal success with Clement, the Jacksons moved horses to Michael Matz and Tagg. Matz kept horses at a training center in Fair Hill, Md., only 20 minutes from the Jacksons' farm. Tagg had previously trained horses for the Jacksons when he was based in Maryland.

While Barbaro, trained by Matz, will be among the favorites in the Derby, some are wondering whether the Jacksons have put any pressure on Tagg to run Showing Up. If anything, the opposite is true.

"He said, 'I'd really feel pretty silly if I'm sitting here with a great horse and I don't enter him,' " Roy Jackson said. " 'If you're willing to pay the money, I'd like to run, or would you rather I stay out of it since you have Barbaro?' "

While having two undefeated horses in the Kentucky Derby is unprecedented, it falls somewhat short of a recurring dream Gretchen Jackson has.

"That's always been our dream race to see all the jockeys come out of the race with our silks on," she said.