08/18/2005 11:00PM

Rumson victor another hit for Sleeter farm

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Finding a formula of success is the goal of every breeder. Gerald and Carolyn Sleeter are obviously searching in the right places.

The Sleeters have been breeding and racing Thoroughbreds in New Jersey since switching from Quarter Horses in the mid-1960's and have ranked among New Jersey's leading breeders for decades. Just two years ago, Carolyn Sleeter was New Jersey's Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association award winner as breeder of the year.

The couple, who operate their 40-acre farm amid encroaching suburbia in Clementon, N.J., saw success when the very first horse they bred, Proudest Spartan (a foal of 1971), won the Woodlands Handicap at 3. On Aug. 14, Who's the Cowboy, a 3-year-old gelding descending from the same family, got his first stakes win with his 2 1/2-length triumph in the Rumson Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Much of the Sleeters' success traces to Proudest Spartan's dam, Spurs Image, whom they acquired as a yearling in 1967 - their first Thoroughbred by their own stallion Painter Boy.

Carolyn Sleeter said she and her husband bought Painter Boy to breed to their Quarter Horse mares.

"He didn't have many Thoroughbred foals, but Spurs Image was one of them," she said. "When we switched to Thoroughbreds, we bought her."

Spurs Image made 35 starts over two seasons, won four races, set a track record at Liberty Bell racetrack for 1 1/16 miles, and earned $19,290.

Another part of the formula came with the purchase of Better Arbitor, a son of Better Bee who sired the Sleeters' good runner Arbitor's Image (out of Spurs Image), who earned more than $170,000 in the 1980's.

"At the time, we were shipping our mares out to be bred," said Sleeter. "We decided it would be easier to keep our own stallion and manage our mares, and decided to buy Better Arbitor after the success of Arbitor's Image."

The Sleeters have stood a stallion at their farm ever since, breeding him mostly to the family's own mares. One requirement when selecting a stallion is finding strength on the dam's side, said Sleeter.

"With Better Arbitor, nobody realized how closely related to Northern Dancer he was," she said. Better Arbitor's dam was Arctic Ava, a daughter of Nearctic out of Avatara, a full sister to Almahmoud. Northern Dancer was by Nearctic out of a daughter of Almahmoud.

The first filly by Better Arbitor out of Spurs Image was Image's Image. Although she would earn $33,572 and win four races, her record paled in comparison to that of her year-younger full sister, Eleven Spurs, a winner of two stakes and $166,579.

When bred to home stallion Northern Idol, Image's Image produced Eleven North, a winner of 16 races, including six stakes, who earned $459,755. She is now honored with a New Jersey-bred stakes run in her name.

Northern Idol, a grandson of Northern Dancer, sired numerous stakes winners with Better Arbitor mares, including 2005 stakes winner Eastern Gale. New Jersey's stallion of the year five times, Northern Idol died in 1999 at age 13.

Following Northern Idol's death, the Sleeters acquired a son of Gone West named Intensity (out of champion racemare Ambassador of Luck). Image's Image first foal by Intensity is Who's the Cowboy. Stakes placed three times last year at 2, Who's the Cowboy boosted his earnings to $224,953 with his Rumson victory. The gelding has been first or second in eight of his last nine starts.

Intensity stood only three years before before succumbing to cancer in 2002. Image's Image's 2-year-old, named About Noon, is by the stallion. Her yearling colt is by the Sleeters' current stallion Funny Frolic. Barren for 2005, she is back in foal to Funny Frolic.