08/04/2004 11:00PM

Second wind for Seattle Fitz


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - A horseman will go to the ends of the Earth to find their "Big Horse." Terry Finley, the founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, found his at a 2-year-olds in training sale in Dubai in the fall of 2002.

On the advice of a friend, Finley attended the sale in Dubai, where he purchased the Argentine-bred Seattle Fitz for the equivalent of $135,000. It has taken a while for Seattle Fitz to acclimate to North America, but in the past eight months he has risen through the ranks of the handicap division.

Just where Seattle Fitz ranks will be revealed Saturday when he takes on Peace Rules and three other Grade 1 winners in the $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. Seattle Fitz enters the Whitney off a career-best effort in winning the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont Park on June 12.

"We had an inkling he had a shot to be a pretty good horse," said Finley, who in 1991 founded West Point Thoroughbreds, a Mount Laurel, N.J., company that has syndicated 130 horses for more than $18 million. "And everybody that got on his back said if this horse ever puts it together, he's got a shot to be a very good horse."

Jockey Richard Migliore, said Finley, "was actually the first guy who started to say that back in August up here a year ago."

Seattle Fitz began his career in Dubai, where he raced five times before coming to North America and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin in the spring of 2003. It wasn't until September, in his fifth North American start, that Seattle Fitz won a

second-level allowance race by 10 1/2 lengths. He raced competitively in a couple of graded stakes before winning the Grade 3 Queens County over Aqueduct's inner track in December.

Seattle Fitz finished second behind Medaglia d'Oro in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream in February before running fourth in the New Orleans Handicap and sixth as the 7-10 favorite in the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

It was after the Gulfstream race that Seattle Fitz underwent a second myectomy, a surgical procedure that improves a horse's breathing by excising a small portion of the muscle in the throat, which promotes a better seal between the larynx and soft palate.

In two starts since the surgery, Seattle Fitz won the William Donald Schaefer Handicap at Pimlico and the Brooklyn. The Whitney has been the target for Seattle Fitz since then, though Finley and McLaughlin briefly flirted with the idea of running in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

"It took us a day or two, but we said, 'Let's develop a plan to get to the Whitney and let's really try our best to not go astray,' " Finley said. "And if they beat us in the Whitney, they beat us. But let's try to do everything we can to get there as good as we can."

Seattle Fitz has won his last two races in different styles. In the Schaefer, he settled just off the pace. In the Brooklyn, he was on the lead from the outset. There is a ton of speed in the Whitney, but Migliore said he would let Seattle Fitz dictate how he wants to run.

"He's going to dictate that, because you can't get in his mouth," Migliore said. "If he wants to go very fast, he's going to go very fast. If he wants to settle off one or two like he did at Pimlico, then he'll settle off one or two, but that's up to him to decide. I think when you inhibit him in any way you take away from his stride and his air, and he's not the same horse."

Finley said he has tried many ways to lure clients to his business. He believes the soft sell is the best approach. In reality, a fast horse is the most effective way to catch a potential client's eye.

"I hope people are paying attention, and obviously a big race like this you would think that the vast majority of people that are looking to get into the game would be paying attention," Finley said. "So, I just hope we can get lucky."