07/08/2004 11:00PM

Quantum Merit a credit to Nielsen's memory

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Quantum Merit's victory in last Saturday's Grade 2 Firecracker Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs carried on the legacy left behind by his breeder, Jerry Nielsen, who died earlier this year.

Nielsen, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders at the time of his death, and his wife, Joanne, bred Quantum Merit, a New York-bred son of Hansel. Since her husband's sudden death in the spring, Nielsen and the couple's son, Jerry Jr., have continued on with the family's breeding operation, which is based at Sunnyfield Farm in Bedford, N.Y.

The late Nielsen also bred Quantum Merit's dam, Just Flirting, a New York-bred daughter of Green Dancer. Quantum Merit is Just Flirting's third foal and first stakes winner. The mare has also produced Reluctant Groom, a stakes-placed runner. Will Flirt, a younger half-sister to Quantum Merit bred by the Nielsens and sired by Williamstown, won a maiden grass race at Belmont Park the same day the Firecracker was run.

The Nielsens, through the Summerfield consignment, sold Quantum Merit as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton's preferred sale in Saratoga Springs in 2000. Jimmy Miranda, acting as agent for Joseph Gioia, who owns a waterproof contracting business in Long Island, and Gioia's father, Enzo, bought Quantum Merit for $32,000.

Quantum Merit has earned $519,525 for the Gioias, who race under the name Very Un Stable. His win in the Firecracker brought his record to 8-1-2 in 18 starts. Other stakes won by Quantum Merit are the Ashley T. Cole, Cormorant, and Kingston. The mile Firecracker was Quantum Merit's first start outside of New York and his first in a graded race.

Just Flirting, who failed to win a race in four career starts, has no report of foals being born in 2002 or 2003. This year, the 12-year-old mare gave birth to a Smoke Glacken filly on April 12.

Del Carroll II, Quantum Merit's trainer, said the Grade 1 Arlington Million on Aug. 14 is possible for the 5-year-old gelding's next start.

Carroll was not involved in the purchase of Quantum Merit, but said he is obviously delighted to have the horse in his barn.

Said Carroll: "I wasn't at the sale that night, and the next morning I teased [Joseph Gioia] and said, 'How many did you buy?' He said, 'Just one.' "

McMahon of Saratoga member to study abroad

Kate McMahon, a daughter of Joe and Anne McMahon of McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, has been accepted to participate in the Darley Flying Start program, according to a recent news report in the Saratoga Springs newspaper, The Saratogian.

McMahon, 25, is one of three Americans accepted to the two-year study program that focuses on breeding and racing.

The students will work at Darley's breeding and racing operations in Ireland, England, Dubai, and Australia.

Darley Flying Start is sponsored by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum.

* The Equine Advocates annual awards dinner and charity auction will be held at Stone Bridge Farm on Aug. 5 in Schuylerville, N.Y.

Proceeds from the dinner, which will honor John Hettinger, a longtime breeder and owner in New York, will benefit equine rescue operations. Legendary country and western artist Willie Nelson will provide the musical entertainment at the event, which begins with cocktails and a silent auction at 6 p.m. Dinner and a live auction will follow at 7:30 p.m. Call (518) 245-1599 for more information.

* The New York Thoroughbred Breeders will sponsor a tour of farms located in the Adirondack region on Aug. 1. Contact the NYTB offices at (518) 587-0777 for more information.