05/01/2008 12:00AM

Pompa glad he kept a small slice

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Paul Pompa Jr. had barely made it to the New York State Thruway last Sept. 3 when his phone started ringing nonstop. The Pompa-owned Big Brown had just won a maiden turf race at Saratoga by 11 1/4 lengths and people were inquiring if he was for sale.

Pompa, who has sold several of his stakes-winning horses, told the suitors to call back in a few days because he wanted to digest what he just saw. A few weeks later, Pompa, who purchased Big Brown for $190,000 at auction, made a multimillion-dollar deal with Michael Iavarone of the IEAH Stable. Not only did Pompa make a nice profit, he got to retain 25-percent ownership in the colt, the likely favorite for Saturday's 134th Kentucky Derby.

"I'm just fortunate that I made a wise decision to stay in,'' said Pompa, who named the horse Big Brown because his Brooklyn-based trucking company serves as a cartage agent for UPS.

Pompa, 49, bought Big Brown at the Keeneland 2-year-old sale in April 2007. A month earlier, Pompa had won a race at Gulfstream with Big Brown's half-brother Snake River Canyon. Snake River Canyon, a son of Gulch out of the dam Mien, was claimed from Pompa that day, but the performance of the gelding - his only win in 12 career starts - stood out to him.

"They made three or four runs at him and he put them all away,'' said Pompa, who claimed Snake River Canyon for $62,500 and lost him for $75,000. "The original owner took him back, but he made a big impression on us because he had such heart.''

Pompa, who lives in New Jersey, got into horse ownership in 2000. His father had raced horses at Monmouth Park. The younger Pompa started out with New York-breds and claimers, but soon wanted to upgrade his stable.

In 2004, Pompa hooked up with trainer Pat Reynolds and the two enjoyed success with the likes of Watchmon and Zakocity, who both won graded stakes, More recently, the two campaigned minor stakes winners Lost Etiquette, a half-sister to Zakocity, and Unspoken Word.

Pompa sold Zakocity, Lost Etiquette, and Unspoken Word, all of whom are still active racehorses.

"If you don't sell horses in this game, if you have to constantly go into your pocket, you're not going to be around,'' Pompa said.

Selling those horses has enabled Pompa to reinvest at auction. Pompa works with the Hidden Broom Farm team of Sergio de Sousa, Jack Brothers, Dan Hall, and Mark Roberts to purchase horses. On Pompa's current roster are Backseat Rhythm, third in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Fearless Vision, beaten a neck in last year's Grade 2 Peter Pan.

At recent auctions, Pompa bought an Awesome Again colt for $340,000 and a son of Holy Bull for $180,000. He said he currently has 18 horses in training.

But the best one is Big Brown, who could be the best 3-year-old in training. While Pompa could have the spotlight all to himself if he didn't sell, he said he has no regrets.

"I was very happy with the financial agreement that I made with IEAH; they took the risk,'' Pompa said. "Mike Iavarone has been nothing but class. Now they have this horse in a position to make history. It's a big thrill for myself and my family. Hopefully, we'll all have a good time and get the memory of a lifetime.''