06/24/2005 12:00AM

Slew City Slew's stud fee looking like a bargain

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The victory by Lava Man in the Grade 2 Californian was another solid success this season for the good Seattle Slew stallion Slew City Slew. With Grade 1 winner Sis City also among the stallion's 33 lifetime stakes winners, Slew City Slew has carved a niche for himself in the Kentucky stallion market and has gone a long way toward justifying Brereton C. Jones's belief that "Slew City Slew is the best $5,000 stallion in the world."

The 21-year-old horse has stood his entire career at Jones's Airdrie Stud in Kentucky, and his fee there has remained stable at $5,000 live foal for years. Setting a stud fee is a balance of pragmatism and intuition, and Jones said, "You can't make people breed to a horse at any level. So the best thing to do is price them so that breeders recognize the value."

Certainly, there are a body of breeders who find what they are looking for in Slew City Slew, both in terms of physical characteristics and pedigree. And breeders keep him well booked annually, although this season's results have boosted the son of Seattle Slew into greater prominence.

Despite producing soundness, speed, and consistency, no sire maintains himself in the upper ranks of commercial success and popular appeal without siring winners of the sport's marquee events. This is, perhaps, the result of an overemphasized star system in racing, but that's the way it is.

For instance, the last three crops of 3-year-olds have produced racehorses who have won two-thirds of the Triple Crown. These are Funny Cide (by Distorted Humor), Smarty Jones (by Elusive Quality), and Afleet Alex (by Northern Afleet).

For siring winners of this magnitude, the first two stallions have experienced major rises in their stud fees, and the third will go up next year. Just how much depends on how many more times Afleet Alex cruises to victories like the one he had in the Belmont.

The star system has its virtues, especially in terms of rallying popular interest in particular horses and in bringing greater excitement to the sport and its reporting. In truth, we couldn't exist without it, and breeders and owners would be much the poorer.

But there are also honest, truly useful horses who just miss the mark, are overlooked, and represent great value for breeders, racehorse buyers, and also the betting public.

Lava Man, for instance, was 8-1 against a field that was missing Rock Hard Ten, Saint Liam, the recently retired Ghostzapper, and other titans from the division of older racehorses.

Considering this, Lava Man was actually in the race with an honest chance, and ran much the way his sire and grandsire did, taking the lead and holding the closers at bay through the stretch.

The victory in the Californian is the biggest payoff yet after Lava Man was claimed for $50,000 last August. He had been second in three stakes since then, including the Malibu behind Rock Hard Ten.

Do not expect a big jump in the stud fee for Slew City Slew, even after a richly successful year such as this. But he will doubtless attract a few more nice mares.

"We recommend that people breed to him who want to race, and suggest they breed young mares to him that they are trying to prove as broodmares," Jones said. "That gives them an opportunity to get a sound racehorse with ability, and sometimes a high level of ability."

In the case of Lava Man's dam, the useful Nostalgia's Star mare Li'l Ms. Leonard, Slew City Slew was her third mate. After producing a winner by Mi Cielo and a nonwinner by Geri, the mare foaled Lava Man in California in 2001.

Lava Man looks rather like his sire - dark brown and medium-sized - and runs like him, too, showing his best form racing in front and improving noticeably with maturity.

In fact, Slew City Slew's improvement with age, along with his prestigious sire, drew Jones's attention to him as a stallion prospect.

"Wayne Lukas was training him," Jones said, "and at the time, Wayne was not training that many older horses."

But when Slew City Slew won four stakes as a 4-year-old, before scoring twice at the Grade 1 level at 5, "it caught my attention that not only did Slew City Slew have ability but also a level of soundness," Jones said. "The negative [in terms of commercial demand] was that he didn't win a stakes until he was 4. But the soundness he passes on is something that people are craving, more so than raw speed."