06/25/2004 12:00AM

As a sire of sires, Gone West is king

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sons of the Mr. Prospector stallion Gone West are the hottest properties in breeding today, and there is no wonder. Among third-crop stallions (the oldest foals only 4) this season, the two leading sires by earnings are Elusive Quality and Grand Slam, both by Gone West. They rank first and fifth in the general sire list, with two other sons of Gone West, Mr. Greeley and West by West, also in the top 50.

Previously recognized as the sire of top English sire Zafonic, Gone West has inherited the mantle of his sire, Mr. Prospector, as a preeminent sire of stallions. High recognition in this regard comes only from results on the racetrack. For instance, when Elusive Quality's son Smarty Jones won the Kentucky Derby, Grand Slam's son Limehouse was fourth.

Gone West stands at the Mill Ridge Farm of John and Alice Chandler outside Lexington. Out of the Secretariat mare Secrettame, Gone West won the Dwyer, Gotham, and Withers for James and Alice Mills's Hickory Tree Stable.

"I've always thought that of all the Mr. Prospectors, he had as good a pedigree as any, better than most," Alice Chandler said, "but at the end of the day, you can't really expect something like this to happen."

Truly, the important sires of stallions are the rarest success stories in breeding. It is evident only well into a stallion's career, but when it comes, the recognition tends to send valuations into the stratosphere due to the intense competition.

The demand for sons of Gone West is now so great that the highly regarded Strong Hope (by Grand Slam) recently was acquired to stand at Claiborne Farm for 2005. A strong and beautifully balanced colt, Strong Hope is perhaps the best Gone West that Gone West didn't sire.

In addition, Strong Hope won the Jim Dandy (beating Empire Maker) and Dwyer (both Grade 2) last year, was a $1.7 million yearling at Saratoga in 2001, and descends from the family of Best in Show through her daughter Sex Appeal, the dam of European highweights Try My Best, Solar, and El Gran Senor.

The overall combination of sire line, the strong female family, great natural speed, and an outstanding physique convinced Claiborne to acquire an interest in the colt.

Seth Hancock, president of Claiborne, said, "We bought 40 percent and syndicated that. Mr. Melnyk kept 60 percent and did not syndicate his portion. He's got quite a few mares of his own and is anxious to breed to the horse."

As with many top-tier stallion prospects, the goal with Strong Hope is "to try to win a Grade 1," Hancock said. "To do that, probably the Forego, Vosburgh, Breeders' Cup Sprint, and Cigar Mile would be the races of choice." Although a very talented miler, Strong Hope is not likely to run in the Breeders' Cup Mile, as he never has raced on turf. Rather than change things with the horse, the ownership is inclined to play to the colt's proven strengths.

Nor will Strong Hope be the only new stallion for 2005 from the Gone West line.

Already standing Belmont winner Commendable, Mill Ridge has acquired its second son of Gone West, the Breeders' Cup Turf winner Johar, who dead-heated with High Chaparral in last year's race. Bayne Welker, manager of seasons and sales at Mill Ridge, said, "Johar is a very well-balanced horse. When you watched him race, he looked like a smaller horse, but he's an honest 16.1. He has that classic look about him: deep shoulder and girth, a good correct horse."

Johar's accomplishments on turf may put off some American breeders, who have shied from turf horses in the last decade, but Welker said, "The beauty of a Gone West son is that you can get different dimensions out of them. Take Elusive Quality, who did his best running on the turf, but as his runners have shown, they are not restricted by surface or distance. That's good news for us in standing Johar.

Welker said it was interesting to note that Richard Mandella, who trained Johar for the Thoroughbred Corp., "said he was a little shocked Johar did his best on the turf. Just by the way he had trained, Johar seemed like a good horse, dirt or turf, and Mandella didn't think it mattered what they ran him on."

In assessing the qualities of the Gone West stock, Welker said, "Mr. Greeley was probably best at sprinting, but he has thrown horses that have gone long and on the grass, as well. They can also be good sales horses. When you can put yourself in a position to have American buyers, European buyers, end-users, and pinhookers looking at your horses, you've set yourself up pretty well for success."

This year, Welker said, "The Came Homes are coming to the sales. The ones I've seen have had an ample amount of leg, and people have been raving about them."

The bottom line is that Gone West and his sons are succeeding. Chandler said, "If I had my way, I'd fill every stallion barn we have with sons of Gone West."