12/28/2001 1:00AM

Small farm has had fair share of big hits


When a small breeding operation comes up with two stakes winners in a single season, it can feel like winning the World Series. Just ask Mike and Patricia Sutherland, proprietors of North Highland Farm in Barnesville, Md.

The Sutherlands were credited with their second stakes winner of 2001 when the 3-year-old filly Winter Leaf carried their colors to a 3 1/2-length victory against older Maryland-bred rivals in Laurel Park's Squan Song Stakes the day after Christmas.

A winner in 5 of her 11 career starts, all this season, Winter Leaf is one of two horses the Sutherlands have in training with longtime Maryland trainer Ron Cartwright. Winter Leaf led up to the Squan Song with thirds in two other Maryland-bred stakes at Laurel: the Politely, won by Urban Dancer on Nov. 10, and the Dec. 1 Twixt, in which she was beaten only a length by victorious Your Out.

Winter Leaf (by former Kentucky stallion Muhtafal) is out of the Sutherlands's homebred mare, Sunny Princess (by Sunny Clime), who happens to be a half-sister to their other 2001 stakes winner, Treasure Coast Gem, the 2-year-old Mutakddim filly who aired by more than seven lengths in the Sept. 15 Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park. Treasure Coast Gem was sold privately by the Sutherlands and campaigns for owner James H. McCaul.

Treasure Coast Gem and Sunny Princess are the last and first foals, respectively, to be bred by the Sutherlands from the King's Bishop mare Twice Crowned (by King's Bishop), whom they purchased for $16,000 at the 1985 Ocala Breeders' Sales Company October sale.

Twice Crowned was one of the first mares to settle in at North Highland after the Sutherlands acquired the 77-acre property in 1985 and began establishing their horse operation. "My wife had ridden as a child, and wanted to start riding again," said Mike Sutherland, in explaining how they got started. "We bought a Thoroughbred mare, and one thing led to another."

Sutherland owns a Barnesville-based company, NHFE Corp., that leases capital equipment and computers.

The current stakes winners are far from the Sutherlands' only success stories in the horse business. They experienced almost immediate results in the late 1980's with McKilts, a Deputed Testamony filly whom they bred and raced until selling her early in her career. McKilts won the 1990 Maryland Million Oaks and three other added-money races and retired with earnings of $260,968.

While keeping no more than five broodmares at a time, and some years having only one foal born on their farm, the Sutherlands have churned out a total of four stakes winners. The other was Emotional Energy (1993 Everget Stakes). Their stakes-placed performers include Winter Leaf's

8-year-old half-brother, Balancethebudget (by Rare Performer), whom they campaigned to earn nearly $200,000 before selling him privately two years ago to owner Richard Englander. Balancethebudget has lifetime earnings of $418,208.

Making it all the more rewarding, the Sutherlands are hands-on horsepeople who do much of the farm work themselves. "I'm definitely not a gentleman farmer," said Sutherland. "We have help in the mornings, but in the evenings we're out there ourselves. I even do all our own fence repair."

Sunny Princess, not surprisingly, is considered the star of their broodmare band. Winter Leaf is that mare's second stakes performer and fifth winner from five foals to race. Sunny Princess has had only one other foal, a yearling Formal Gold colt, since Winter Leaf, but is in foal for 2002 to Devil His Due.