09/17/2006 11:00PM

Slice of past back in spotlight

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It is one thing to pay tribute to the stables of bygone days, giving their owners a plaque, a statue, or just a nice luncheon and a round of appreciative applause. It is quite another thing, however, when those classic stables of the past keep coming back for more.

It was fitting enough that the Johnston family won the E.B. Johnston Stakes on the first weekend of the meet, scoring with Allswellthatnswell, a 5-year-old daughter of Perfect Mandate. Allswellthatnswell is but the latest in a long line of Johnston family runners that have made an impact at the Pomona fair, dating back to the early 1950's. In California circles, names like Sweet June, Titanium, More Megaton, and Impressive Style will always ring a bell.

Another venerable name broke through last Saturday at Fairplex in the $128,600 Barretts Debutante Stakes, when Quick Little Miss scored by 4 1/2 lengths for the partnership of Annabelle Stute, Dan Schiffer, and The Hat Ranch West.

For those who have forgotten such outstanding runners as Commissary, Gum, and Double Discount, The Hat Ranch is synonymous with the late Ken Schiffer and his wife, Bay. Their trademark blue silks with a black hat on the back have been carried to victory in such events as the Vanity Handicap, the Del Mar Oaks, the San Carlos Handicap, the Carleton F. Burke, and the California Cup Mile.

At the fair, the Schiffer family has won stakes with Gum, Bright Lady, Off My Beat, Booklore, Our Pagan, Winter Spirit, and now Quick Little Miss, who was purchased for $40,000 at the Barretts sale of 2-year-olds last March.

"Highly therapeutic," Bay Schiffer said Monday when asked about her latest Fairplex success. "The business is not as easy as just saying, 'Yes, let's go have a winner.' So this was very nice, indeed."

Ken Schiffer, a native New Yorker, combined his youthful enthusiasm for polo with a die-hard dedication to his vast Wyoming spread, known as The Hat Ranch. When the Thoroughbreds beckoned, the Schiffers moved even farther west, to Southern California, and for more than 25 years they operated The Hat Ranch West, located in what has become the bustling Rancho California area near the inland city of Temecula.

It was hard for Californians to resist a common-sense guy like Schiffer, who gave his own horses their early lessons, gelded all but a couple of his colts, and did most of his business with the help of Mel Stute, his longtime trainer. Schiffer also sported a white Stetson whenever he was at the races, and he had spikes put on his cowboy boots for those many memorable rounds with Stute and friends. Before his death, in 1990, Schiffer had served as president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association and was elected to the Jockey Club.

"He was one of a kind," Stute said. "I'll never have anyone like him around me again, and I kind of knew that at the time."

After Schiffer's death, Bay Schiffer carried on, and The Hat Ranch enjoyed modest success through the following decade. Now in her 90's, Bay Schiffer has sold The Hat Ranch West property. She still lives in a community nearby, where she is known to her friends as the lady with the racehorses.

"We've had quite a succession of horses with Mel," Schiffer said. "And now this filly comes along."

By now, it should come as no surprise that Mel Stute won another race at Fairplex Park. He is the all-time leader. Still, it is remarkable that Quick Little Miss was let go at odds of nearly 30-1, even though she was a maiden after three previous tries, including a troubled fourth in her debut and a last-of-eight finish second time out.

"I've thought all the way along she was a good filly," Stute said. "I turned down a little money for her after her first start. But then I was wishing I hadn't after running her the second time. It turned out she got a little shin, so we worked on that. Reynaldo [assistant trainer Reynaldo Solis] gave her some of his vitamins, and she's got to looking a lot better."

At this point, Quick Little Miss is neither quick nor little. In the Barretts Debutante, she lagged at the back of the pack through the early furlongs, trying to fit her long strides to the bullring, then brushed past the field down the backstretch to win by 4 1/2 lengths under Isaias Enriquez. The tote lit at $60.40.

"Didn't bet her to win," said Stute, a dedicated player. "But I did get lucky with one of those new, fancy things - the superfecta. So that was enough to keep me going for a day or two."

As for the future, Stute notes that Quick Little Miss should be able to keep going a lot farther than the 6 1/2 furlongs of the Debutante. She is by Freud, a full brother to Giant's Causeway, and out of Swift Girl, a daughter of Unbridled.

"So far she's done everything good," he said. "She doesn't get silly, or anything like that. I'm looking forward to see what she can do next."