10/26/2006 11:00PM

Pennsylvania: It's never too late for a career high

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Phil Fanning has always considered his victory aboard Ned's Flying in the 1958 running of the Maryland Hunt Cup as "the peak of my existence." But, at age 82, Fanning may change his mind.

If Great Hunter, a colt bred by Fanning at his Ivy Dell Farm near Unionville, Pa., wins this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Fanning says he'll "be inclined to forget about the Maryland Hunt Cup."

Great Hunter, a son of Aptitude, goes into the Nov. 4 Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs with strong credentials, having defeated the likely favorite, Circular Quay, in the last outing for each of them, the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity on Oct. 7 at Keeneland.

Although no one can say for sure what role Keeneland's new Polytrack surface played in the running of the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity, Great Hunter left no doubt about his talent. Steadied near the far turn as another horse stopped in front of him, and bumping with odds-on favorite Circular Quay approaching the stretch, he surged down the lane and scored by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:44.09.

Great Hunter is owned by Paul Reddam, who purchased him privately after his second start, a maiden special weight win at Lone Star Park on June 8.

Since then, West Coast-based trainer Doug O'Neill has sent out Great Hunter to win the Breeders' Futurity and finish second in three graded stakes (all six to seven furlongs): the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship (Hollywood Park, July 4); Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes (Del Mar, Aug. 13); and Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity (Del Mar, Sept. 6).

In six career starts, Great Hunter has earned $430,000.

Fanning bought Great Hunter's dam, Zenith (by Roy), for $150,000 at the 2001 Keeneland November sale upon the advice of Pennsylvania-based bloodstock agent Russell Jones.

Zenith (out of the Northern Fashion mare Sequins) was bred by Peggy Augustus's Keswick Stables, a Virginia-based establishment that has produced numerous prominent runners.

Racing for Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm, which bought her for $140,000 from the Keswick consignment at the 1998 Saratoga selected yearling sale, Zenith proved her quality as a graded-placed stakes winner, earning $205,186 for trainer John Servis.

Zenith was offered as a racing prospect at the 2001 sale, but Fanning immediately retired her to the small broodmare band at Ivy Dell.

In three years, Zenith produced three foals for Fanning. All of them were sold at auction as yearlings.

Great Hunter, sold for $30,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September sale, was the least expensive of the three - a fact that slightly surprises Fanning: "I always thought highly of his sire, Aptitude. I'm a great admirer of Mr. Abdullah, who is one of the great breeders of our time." Great Hunter is from the second crop of Aptitude, a Grade 1-winning son of leading sire A.P. Indy standing at his breeder-owner Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farm in Kentucky.

Fanning sold Zenith's 2003 gelding, Top of the Town (by Old Trieste), for $60,000 at Saratoga. Her 2005 filly by Honour and Glory brought $75,000 at the 2006 Keeneland January sale.

Top of the Town was resold at the 2005 Keeneland April 2-year-olds in-training sale for $150,000, but has so far failed to win his maiden in eight starts.

Because of his advancing age, Fanning decided to give up his breeding operation earlier this year, although he still has three horses in training. He sold Zenith for $30,000 (in foal to Golden Missile) at the 2006 Keeneland January sale.

The lucky buyer was Dan Ryan, a longtime horseman and son of Maryland owner-breeder Jim Ryan. The elder Ryan's success with modestly priced broodmares has been second to none, highlighted by Eclipse Award winners Heavenly Cause and Smart Angle and Belmont Stakes winner Caveat.

Dan Ryan, of course, has been closely following Great Hunter's exploits, which will help to determine whether he races or sells Zenith's handsome weanling colt by Golden Missile. Zenith is barren to the cover of Harlan's Holiday for 2007, and will be bred back to a stallion from the A.P. Indy line, reports Ryan.

Ryan's own dream will come true if Great Hunter snares a Breeders' Cup win, and his dam qualifies for a mating with the great A.P. Indy himself.