12/01/2006 1:00AM

Runcos hit home run with Dahlgren Hall

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Leading Charles Town trainer Jeff Runco has developed many local standouts. But none of the others could compare with Dahlgren Hall, the strapping chestnut colt who is all but certain to be named champion West Virginia-bred 2-year-old male of 2006.

Runco not only co-owns and trains Dahlgren Hall, but he and his wife, Susan, also bred and raised him at their 30-acre Coleswood Farm near Charles Town, W. Va.

Owned in partnership with Runco's longtime client Neil Glasser, who purchased a half-interest in him when he was a yearling, Dahlgren Hall has required only four starts to establish himself as the best horse ever bred by the Runcos.

He scored by six lengths in his debut, a 4 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Charles Town on Sept. 10, and had a legitimate excuse while finishing third (only a half-length behind the winner, Eagle Speed) in the 6 1/2-furlong Vincent Moscarelli Memorial on West Virginia Breeders Classics night, Oct. 14. He was bumped badly at the start of that race, which would prove to be his only defeat.

Runco wheeled back Dahlgren Hall in Charles Town's two other prized events for juveniles - the Tri-State Futurity (contested in two divisions on Nov. 3) and West Virginia Futurity (Nov. 25) - and he won them both as the heavy favorite.

In the West Virginia Futurity, Dahlgren Hall easily defeated Moscarelli winner Eagle Speed, who had captured the other division of the Tri-State Futurity.

Dahlgren Hall (named for a building at the U.S. Naval Academy, where the Runcos' son, Jeremy, is in his second year) is now back on the family farm. And Runco soon will decide just how ambitious a 3-year-old campaign he will map out for the star homebred, whose ended this season with earnings of $82,128.

Dahlgren Hall, by Kentucky-based sire Mutakddim, would not have come this far without careful planning on the Runcos' part. His dam, Heater (by Dixieland Heat), also raced for them, winning 5 of 10 starts and $64,308. The Runcos purchased Heater privately as a weanling from William Fenton, who had paid $26,000 for her a short time earlier at the 1997 Keeneland November sale.

The Runcos, who maintain five broodmares, frequently breed to Kentucky sires.

Heater's first foal, a 2003 Lear Fan colt named Hot Look, sold for $50,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, and is unraced.

For Heater's second mating, Susan Runco, an avid student of bloodlines, chose Mutakddim, based on conformation as well as pedigree. It was the first time the Runcos have patronized that stallion.

"The mare is correct, and beautiful, but she's leggy," Susan Runco explained. "We wanted a stallion who would contribute bone and substance."

A son of Seeking the Gold from the female family of leading Mid-Atlantic sire Not for Love, Mutakddim was a group-placed stakes winner in England. In seven crops, he has been represented by more than 50 stakes winners.

Heater has a yearling filly by Silver Ghost and a weanling colt by Brahms. She failed to conceive on one cover to Brahms in 2006 and was given a year off; her mating for 2007 is still undecided.

The slots-enhanced purses at Charles Town have encouraged the Runcos to upgrade their breeding operation.

"We're upgrading it a little at a time," said Susan Runco. "We don't have much space [on the farm], so we have to be selective."

Their latest broodmare acquisition is A Penny Saved, a 10-year-old daughter of Pentelicus purchased for $30,000, in foal to Aptitude, from the Claiborne Farm consignment at this year's Keeneland November sale.