02/24/2006 12:00AM

Stulls still fans of Top This and That

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ARCADIA, Calif. - Top This and That made only two starts for his breeders, Tom and Debbie Stull, before he was claimed for $40,000 after a win at Santa Anita in January 2005.

In the last year, Tom Stull has watched Top This and That earn more than $200,000 for a four-man partnership and slowly rise in class to join the list of probable starters for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap next Saturday.

Some breeders may react with disgust that a horse got away from them and went on to improve, but Stull insists he has taken an opposite approach.

"We're here to sell, so I have to root for all of them," Stull said on Thursday. "I can't own them all."

As a consolation, the Stulls stand Top This and That's stallion, Old Topper; still own Top This and That's dam, Emmy Ann; and receive breeder awards for Top This and That's earnings on the racetrack.

But a year ago, those $200,000 in earnings seemed unlikely for a $40,000 maiden claimer.

Top This and That has made one start for a claiming price since he was taken, winning a $62,500 claimer at a mile on turf at Del Mar in July. In six of his seven starts since that race, he has finished in the top three.

Now trained by Dan Hendricks, Top This and That has yet to win a stakes, but was third in the $250,000 Snow Chief Stakes at Hollywood Park last April, third in the Derby Trial at Fairplex Park last September, and the runner-up in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes here on Feb. 4.

Hendricks recalls that in January 2005 Jerry Higman, now one of Top This and That's owners, requested that he take a look at Top This and That as a potential claim.

"He was correct enough, but he was kind of a gangly, immature 3-year-old," Hendricks said. "I thought he could improve over time. He's put on weight and matured."

In the Strub, Top This and That rallied from ninth at 18-1 and finished 4 1/2 lengths behind Big Cap hopeful High Limit. Giacomo, the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, finished third.

"He ran a huge race in his last race," Stull said. "I was pretty impressed. I figured he had a good chance to come somewhere in the money. I was reading the same Form as everyone else. I don't know why he was those odds."

The Stulls keep Emmy Ann at their Tommy Town Thoroughbreds farm in Santa Ynez, Calif. Emmy Ann, who is by Theatrical, was unraced. She is out of Griddle, a stakes winner in Argentina, who produced the stakes winners Yokohama and Yappy.

Tom Stull said that Emmy Ann lost a foal by Lord Carson earlier this year.

"The baby was so huge we couldn't save the baby," he said.

This year, Emmy Ann will be bred to Old Topper, who has been booked to 85 mares, a number that Stull said could increase to 100. Old Topper, a multiple stakes winner who earned $655,861 in a four-year career from 1997-2000, stands for $6,000, live foal. He was best as a sprinter, but did win a one-mile allowance race.

Sounding like a proud breeder, Stull said he is optimistic that Top This and That can be effective over the Big Cap distance of 1 1/4 miles.

"If it's anything like the last race, he has a chance to be right there," he said. "I think he'll love the extra distance. He was flying at the end. I really think a lot of him. They must think a lot of him to put him in this kind of race."