10/08/2004 12:00AM

Pohave partners grabbed a shooting star

Benoit & Associates
Now owned by Darley Stud, Pohave will go in Sunday's Ancient Title.

About a year ago, Mark Leib, Ty Leatherman, and Tom and Jerry Kagele tried to buy a pair of horses from owners Aaron and Marie Jones and trainer Larry Barrera. The one they thought was best got away. But they ended up with a pretty satisfying consolation prize.

For the past 12 months, they owned the stakes-winning sprinter . He was far from a top sprinter when they got him. In his first start for them last October, Pohave competed in a $50,000 claiming race. But over the next 12 months, under the care of trainer Doug O'Neill, Pohave became one of the elite sprinters on the West Coast. He won two stakes this year, including the Grade 1 Triple Bend Breeders' Cup Handicap at Hollywood Park. Because of his development, Pohave attracted the attention of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Darley Stud, which purchased the 6-year-old gelding privately one week ago.

"It was too good an offer for us not to take it," Leib said. "I mean, he made $400,000 on the track this year - we sold him for a sizable profit."

So, the four men will have only a rooting interest in Pohave on Sunday, when he competes in the Grade 1, $250,000 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, but they'll have plenty of cash to soothe them.

Kind of takes away from the sting of losing out on Kela, doesn't it?

"We were trying to get Kela at the same time, but we were outbid on Kela," Tom Kagele said. "Both did great. But we had higher expectations for Kela. We ran Pohave back for $50,000. We hoped we'd get lucky, but our expectations were that he'd compete for $50,000."

Kela was the sprint star of the summer at Del Mar. He swept both of Del Mar's graded stakes for sprinters, which included victories over Pohave in the Bing Crosby Breeders' Cup Handicap and over Pico Central in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap. Kela runs next in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

The partners are not lamenting losing out on Kela, or selling Pohave. They've got too much going on. Leib, Leatherman, and the Kageles are ideal poster boys for the next generation of racing owners. They are young - Leib, at 42, is the only one older than 35 - love the action of the track, and have numerous horses in various partnerships that occasionally overlap.

The Kageles, in a partnership, have the most accomplished horse in Southern Image, who this year captured the Santa Anita Handicap and Pimlico Special. They also, in partnership with Leib, own Supah Blitz, who won the Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap in his first start for them after being purchased privately by O'Neill's brother, Dennis. Leatherman, who mostly races in partnership with his father, Lee, has two million-dollar earners at the track, Japan Cup Dirt winner Fleetstreet Dancer, and the well-traveled, multiple derby winner Excessivepleasure.

Tom Kagele, 34, is starting a real-estate development firm and manages the racing interests of himself and his 35-year-old brother, Jerry, who is an executive vice president of the computer equipment company Bell Microproducts. They have 22 horses, including a sizable number in Texas at Lone Star Park, where they were the winningest owners at that track's spring meet.

"I've been around the track a long time," Kagele said. "I come from a large Italian family, one where if you wanted to see your uncle, you had to go find him in the grandstand.

"Mark [Leib] and I work well together because we approach handicapping differently. Mark's a sheets player. I use the Form."

Leib is a corporate ticket broker who this week was spending time in St. Louis and Minneapolis, taking care of clients for the Major League Baseball playoffs.

"The first person who put me on to Pohave was Jeff Copland," Leib said of the former trainer, a well-known racetrack character. "I had always liked the horse. He's a big-striding horse. The price was too good to be true. And then we did throat surgery on him."

Leatherman, 34, works for his family's business, Professional Staffing, which supplies nurses to scores of hospitals in Southern California. All 20 horses in which he has an interest are with O'Neill, who guided Fleetstreet Dancer to his victory in last year's Japan Cup Dirt, and Excessivepleasure to victories in the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park, Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, and Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows.

Pohave was the perfect storm for the four Californians.

"It was the all-time home run," Kagele said. "Doug got him going in the right direction. We were going to run him in the Ancient Title and then the Breeders' Cup, but we got an offer we couldn't refuse."