05/23/2006 11:00PM

Stonehedge juveniles heat up O'Connell barn


MIAMI - Shortly after the first crop of 2-year-olds arrived at Kathleen O'Connell's barn this spring from owner-breeder Gilbert Campbell's Stonehedge Farm, O'Connell had a feeling she could be in for a big year.

"I called Mr. Campbell and told him this was the best bunch of 2-year-olds he's ever sent me," O'Connell recalled. "And so far it sure has panned out that way."

O'Connell and Campbell combined to win four 2-year-old races in as many days. The streak began last Friday when A Bit of Madness led throughout to easily defeat a strong field of maiden special weight rivals in his second career start. The following afternoon, another Campbell homebred, Pleasure Seeker, won the filly division of the same race, covering 4 1/2 furlongs in a very quick 52.90 seconds. The streak continued Sunday with Jaxamillion and into Monday when Bewitchin Babe wired a field of high-priced 2-year-old filly claimers.

A Bit of Madness, Pleasure Seeker, and Jaxamillion were all sired by West Acre, while Bewitchin Babe is a daughter of French Envoy.

"Both A Bit of Madness and Pleasure Seeker come from very good families," said O'Connell. "And both are eligible for the Florida Stallion Stakes, which is always on the back burner. The good news is that I have several others here for Mr. Campbell who haven't run yet, and there are a few more still at the farm, which I'm really excited about. I love the 2-year-olds, because they are our future."

O'Connell, a Detroit native, has been a regular in Florida for the past 20 years, racing both locally and at Tampa Bay Downs. Her biggest claim to fame came with Blazing Sword, who registered a pair of victories at 2 in the Florida Stallion Stakes and went on to earn more than $1 million in purses for Campbell and O'Connell, as well as become a Grade 2 winner by capturing the 2000 Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park.

O'Connell has 65 horses in training, 40 at Calder and another 25 at Delaware Park, where she has sent a division for the first time this summer.

"Having a stable at Delaware gives a lot of my clients another avenue to pursue, especially those with solid turf horses or horses who might not handle the heat," said O'Connell. "I try to get down there once a week, or if not at least once every other week. I go during the dark days here and stay for a couple of days, which is actually like a bit of a break for me."

Proven winner a new addition

O'Connell recently got another break when Cloverleaf Farms sent her the Grade 2 winner Congrats, previously based in California with Richard Mandella. Cloverleaf recently purchased Congrats, 6, as a stallion prospect to stand in Florida beginning next season.

"It was like a birthday and Christmas all at once when I heard I was getting this horse to train," said O'Connell. "He had passed through my barn when they purchased him, but at the time I never dreamed I'd get to run him too. He came here from Mr. Mandella in super shape and is training awesome. The goal right now is to get him over the $1 million mark in earnings and keep racing him as long as he shows he wants to be a racehorse."

Congrats, who has earned $978,000, is scheduled to make his local debut on Monday in the Grade 3 Memorial Day Handicap.

Plesa barn also split for the summer

Like O'Connell, trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. has also split his stable this summer, keeping a full contingent of 40 on the grounds here while shipping another 20 to Monmouth Park. Among the Monmouth group are Electrify, Stolen Prayer, and Mr. Silver, all of whom have stakes engagements scheduled over the next couple of weeks.

"I plan to run Electrify in the Spend a Buck on May 29 and Stolen Prayer in the Trenton Stakes on the turf the following week at Monmouth Park and Mr. Silver in the Hill Prince in New York the day before the Belmont Stakes," said Plesa, who is atop the trainer standings one month into the Calder meet.

Plesa is also loaded with some talented 2-year-olds, including Yesbyjimminy, who won his maiden at first asking on opening day, and Silver Trippi, who finished second behind Pleasure Seeker on Saturday.

"About half the horses I have here are 2-year-olds," said Plesa, who swept both stakes on last Saturday's card with the more seasoned pair of Unbridels King and A.J. Melini.

* Abel Castellano Jr., who won both stakes on Saturday for Plesa, posted another hat trick on Tuesday, which included an easy win aboard the heavily favored Big Lover in the featured eighth race. Castellano trails only Manoel Cruz in the jockey standings.

* A pair of allowance races on the turf highlight Friday's twilight card. Big Luck will likely be favored to win for the second time this month when he heads a field of third-level optional claiming horses, which also includes the speedy King Cassia and stakes-tested Rehoboth, in the afternoon's second event. The fifth race, carded at five furlongs for second-level optional claiming runners, lured hard-knocking turf sprint specialists such as True Love's Secret, Lox and Kippers, and Ptah.