12/13/2002 1:00AM

Small-scale breeder in line for gigantic feat

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When the Eclipse Award ballots go out, Virginia Kraft Payson's achievement as a breeder might not be obvious on rankings of money earned or number of stakes winners. But her name will appear in two important places, as the breeder of Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vindication and dual Grade 1 winner Farda Amiga, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

There's a good chance both horses will be voted champions in their divisions. If so, Virginia Kraft Payson will have joined such elite company as Ogden Phipps and Penny Chenery by breeding two champions in the same year. Remarkably, Payson will have accomplished the feat with fewer than 25 horses in her broodmare band at 300-acre Payson Stud near Lexington.

"Georgia Hofmann was my great heroine, and I always respected her and the success she had," said Payson. "She kept a broodmare band of about 12, and that's been my goal. I've been pretty successful keeping the number at about 20. I've never been above 25 and most of the time I'm under 20."

Payson followed her late husband, Charles Shipman Payson, into the Thoroughbred game and bought her first horse in 1977. Since then, she has built a successful program that produced what many would call the traditional racehorse, a distance-loving runner with classic potential.

"All my early reading and training and all the people I admired taught me that, as breeders, we were concentrating so much on speed, and on early speed, that we were forsaking and therefore sacrificing stamina," she said.

One mare, Northern Sunset, has been the cornerstone of Payson's program, and she exemplifies the combination of speed and stamina Payson admires. Payson and her husband bought the Northfields mare at the 1982 Keeneland January sale for $105,000. The mare went on to produce the Irish Derby winner and Epsom Derby runner-up St. Jovite, and the graded stakes winners Salem Drive, Lac Ouimet, and L'Carriere, the last of whom also is a millionaire.

"The reason I bought Northern Sunset is because she was a winner at six furlongs at 2 and she also was a winner over 2 1/2 miles of hurdles," Payson said.

Ten years after St. Jovite won his Irish Derby, Northern Sunset's classic influence is still being felt in the Payson breeding program through her great-granddaughter Farda Amiga.

Farda Amiga, by Broad Brush, was the first filly from the Northern Sunset family that Payson sold, and she brought just $45,000 at the Keeneland September auction.

"I think that, having bred to race for so long, people thought I was culling her," Payson said, adding that Farda Amiga was among the first horses she sold as part of her decision to turn her homebreeding operation into a commercial program in 1999.

Vindication fared better at auction, bringing $2.15 million at the 2001 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale. Vindication's Payson Stud connections go back to 1991, when Payson bought his second dam, Pretty Reason, at the 1991 Keeneland November sale for $20,000. Her mating with Strawberry Road resulted in the stakes winner Strawberry Reason, Vindication's dam.

The change to commercial breeding hasn't altered Payson's fundamental breeding criteria. She still looks for crosses of good female families, and she still likes the stamina influence.

"I'm looking for horses that can go 1 1/4 miles at 3 and be the best of their generation," she said.

Until Sundown to stand at Wafare Farm

Grade 1-placed stakes winner Until Sundown has retired from the racetrack and will join the stallion roster at Nathan Fox's Wafare Farm in Midway, Ky. He will stand as the property of Narvick International for a $4,000 fee.

A Smart Strike colt, Until Sundown won the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap and finished second behind Congaree in the Grade 1 Swaps Stakes last year; he also was second in the Alydar Stakes that season. Now 4 years old, he retires with 3 wins and 3 seconds from 9 lifetime starts and a career bankroll of $276,600.

Until Sundown is the third stakes performer for his dam, the Northern Baby mare Cool Baby. She also has produced multiple stakes winner Cool Air and stakes-placed Serena's Pride.