07/15/2003 11:00PM

Phipps strategy ever-evolving

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LAS VEGAS - With the opening of Saratoga next Wednesday, all eyes will be on 2-year-old runners. Some impressive juveniles, such as trainer Todd Pletcher's trio of Limehouse, Heckle, and Chapel Royal, are already stakes winners, but the majority of 2-year-olds heading to the Spa have yet to race.

One owner who will no doubt be sending out several classy first-timers at the meet is the Phipps family.

Over the last 80 years, the Phipps family - Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps (Wheatley Stable), her son Ogden Phipps, her grandson Ogden Mills Phipps, and granddaughter Cynthia Phipps - has significantly helped shape the breed. While generally known as the breeder and owner of such racing greats as Bold Ruler, Buckpasser, and Easy Goer, they also bred Seabiscuit, who is about to become a household name with the release of the major motion picture "Seabiscuit," based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand.

The Phipps family achieved unparalleled success in the 1960's, when it bred and raced seven 2-year-old champions, including Castle Forbes (co-champion with Tosmah in 1963), Bold Lad and Queen Empress (1964 champion 2-year-old colt and filly), Buckpasser (1965 champion 2-year-old colt), Successor (1966 champion 2-year-old colt and a full brother to Bold Lad), and Vitriolic and Queen of the Stage (1967 champion 2-year-old colt and filly). Among the family's dozens of stakes-winning 2-year-olds during the decade were Reviewer, What a Pleasure, and Irish Castle.

All of the champions, with the exception of Castle Forbes (by Tulyar) and Buckpasser (Tom Fool), were a direct result of the ascension of Bold Ruler as the most dominant stallion of his generation, crossed with a broodmare band carefully cultivated over decades by Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps and her son Ogden.

Like all the great breeders, the Phippses have endured dry spells between their triumphs, but the dry spells never lasted long enough to keep them from a return to prominence. For the Phippses, these dry spells were usually a result of a combination of factors.

As the 1970's approached, it seemed only natural that the Phippses breed their best Bold Ruler broodmares to their homebred champion Buckpasser, but the cross between these two great stallions was a genetic bomb. Breeding Bold Ruler mares to outside stallions, such as Ribot, also failed miserably. While the Phippses had success breeding to imports Herbager and Tatan, it was an unmitigated disaster when they chose to use the South American superstar stallion Pronto, who was imported to Claiborne Farm. With the exception of Take by Storm, who finished second in the 1973 Hopeful Stakes, the experiment with Pronto was a low point for their program.

Turning to other stallions, such as Damascus, Majestic Prince, Le Fabuleux, and Nijinsky II, however, resulted in stakes winners such as Private Account, Majestic Light, Effervescing, and Duty Dance. Using these stallions, a stable that was renowned for its juveniles was now getting long-distance runners on turf.

Another upswing began in the late 1980's when the Phippses mated their mares to Alydar, Mr. Prospector, and Danzig, resulting in many major stakes winners. Breeding mainly to Unbridled, Storm Cat, and A.P. Indy in recent years has resulted in modest success, and they are now breeding to other stallions such as Monarchos, Horse Chestnut, Rahy, and Pulpit.