03/12/2004 12:00AM

Southern Image lifts Bridlewood

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - In a sales season in which record prices for 2-year-olds in training have been shattered at one sale after another, perhaps the result of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap will only fan the flames higher.

Why? Because the winner, Southern Image, brought the second-highest price two years ago at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March sale of 2-year-olds in training. And with the 2004 OBS March sale set for next week, Southern Image's second Grade 1 victory could not have come at a more opportune time.

In comparison to the seven-figure sums paid for juveniles this year, Southern Image was a bargain, as he sold for $300,000. Now a winner of $1,381,600 with five victories from six starts, the dark brown son of Halo's Image is good value from any angle.

Out of the Dixieland Band mare Pleasant Dixie, Southern Image descends from one of breeder Arthur Appleton's best families, which was developed from the Sir Ivor mare Jolie Jolie, dam of four stakes winners, and extends back to the great broodmare Myrtlewood. Jolie Jolie's best racer was Jolie's Halo, a son of Halo, who won three top-level races, including the Donn and Gulfstream Park handicaps.

The 4-year-old Southern Image is the best racehorse from the family since Jolie's Halo, but Southern Image wasn't the only rooting interest for Bridlewood in the Santa Anita Handicap. Appleton also bred the third-place finisher, the 4-year-old Saint Buddy, by Saint Ballado.

Breeding the horses who run first and third in a race such as the Santa Anita Handicap would be a career pinnacle for most breeders, but it also marks a change in Bridlewood's handling of its homebreds.

Over the past decades, Appleton bred and raced his own stock, but three years ago, with the crop of horses now 4, it began to change.

"We've shifted our emphasis to being a commercial breeding program," said Bridlewood general manager George Isaacs. "Rather than racing all our best stock, we're now selling our best horses. We want to be known as a viable commercial breeding operation, and we also want recognition as a leading breeder, nationally."

Southern Image is the sort of racehorse who brings national attention to a breeding operation, and with other stock like Saint Buddy, French Village, and others racing for new owners, Bridlewood is becoming accepted as an important source of racehorses for sportsmen nationwide.

Isaacs agrees that the farm had to "overcome a certain amount of resistance" to the idea that Bridlewood was actually marketing its best prospects. The resistance, he said, "is not something a private racing entity will overcome overnight, but Southern Image is about as solid proof as it gets. Now, we pretty much offer everything for sale, although we will occasionally keep an extremely well-bred filly for the broodmare band. In 2003, it was close to a total liquidation [of that crop]."

All along, questions about Bridlewood's evolution didn't prevent buyers from showing interest in the farm's premium horses. As part of Bridlewood's initial sales offerings, it sold Saint Buddy at the 2001 Keeneland September sale for $240,000, and he resold as a 2-year-old at Barretts for $300,000. At the 2002 OBS March sale, Southern Image brought the same price.

Southern Image is owned by Allen and Josh Tepper in partnership with brothers Tom and Jerry Kagele and Donald Blahut. The Teppers owns 40 percent, the Kageles 35 percent, and Blahut 25 percent.

A good-sized colt notable for his balance and length of stride when at the OBS March sale two years ago, Southern Image has proven the best offspring to date for both his sire and dam. Halo's Image is a son of Halo, who won more than a half-million dollars at the races. Southern Image is from his sire's second crop, and the third includes the good stakes winner Sir Oscar, who is entered in the Florida Derby.

Southern Image is one of three foals out of Pleasant Dixie by Halo's Image, who stands at Bridlewood. The mare also has a yearling by Put It Back and is in foal to Stormy Atlantic. All three stallions - Halo's Image, Put It Back, and Stormy Atlantic - stood at Bridlewood, although Stormy Atlantic has since moved to Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Kentucky.

Although Pleasant Dixie has been bred entirely to home stallions, Bridlewood may choose mates outside the farm in the future.

"For Bridlewood to accomplish its goals, we have to expand our horizons to outside stallions, as well as our own," Isaacs said. "At the same time we are seeking increased commercial viability with stallions off the farm, we will also continue to remain a force in developing our own stallions."