05/17/2002 12:00AM

Swiss Yodeler starts fast in the breeding shed

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Swiss Yodeler was the star 2-year-old of the 1996 Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting, sweeping the three stakes for the division.

Six years later, four of his daughters have put the young stallion back on top - this time on the national freshman sire list.

On Thursday at Hollywood Park, My Honey Bunny became Swiss Yodeler's fourth winner when she pulled away for a seven-length victory in a $40,000 claiming race for maidens over 4 1/2 furlongs. Her victory improved Swiss Yodeler's progeny earnings to $105,533 from 12 starters, which leads the nation's first-crop sires.

Swiss Yodeler's presence at the top of the list has been a pleasant surprise to his owner, Heinz Steinmann, who credits fellow breeder Marvin Malmuth with an assist in the sire's success. The two men were acquainted through Pepper Oaks Farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., where Swiss Yodeler stands for $4,000 and where Malmuth stands Sharp Victor.

In the spring of 1999, Steinmann told Malmuth he did not have enough mares to support Swiss Yodeler in his all-important first year at stud. Malmuth allowed Steinmann to lease seven mares, and Swiss Yodeler's first four winners - which in addition to My Honey Bunny include Singing Swiss, Alpine Singer, and Little Bit a Swiss - came from the leased mares.

"As it turned out, it might have been the perfect thing," Steinmann said. "We gave them the speed and the mares gave the distance. We only had a modest book of mares."

All but Little Bit a Swiss are trained by Mike Harrington, who trained Swiss Yodeler. Little Bit a Swiss and three other Swiss Yodeler fillies are trained by Harrington's wife, Patricia. They are owned by Steinmann's wife, Lora; the couple's two adult daughters, Annie Downs and Teresa Stapleton; and Patricia Harrington.

Mike and Patricia Harrington have banked heavily on Swiss Yodeler this year. Mike Harrington says he has 23 2-year-olds by Swiss Yodeler in his stable.

"The thing I like is they can all run," Harrington said. "I haven't started one yet that hasn't run some."

Swiss Yodeler is by Eastern Echo, a Grade 1 winner, and is out of the Raja Baba mare Drapeau, a stakes winner.

Swiss Yodeler was a brilliant 2-year-old in 1996, winning five stakes ranging in distance and importance from the Westchester Stakes over 4 1/2 furlongs to the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity over 1 1/16 miles, the longest win of his career. He lost in three stakes at 2, including a third to Silver Charm in the Del Mar Futurity and a third to Free House in the Norfolk Stakes.

After a brief try on the Triple Crown trail in 1997, Swiss Yodeler was kept to sprints for the rest of his career. He never won another race after the Hollywood Futurity, but did finish second in the 1997 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap to eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Elmhurst. As an older horse, he ran third in major stakes in 1998 and 1999.

In 1997 and '98, Swiss Yodeler was pre-entered for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, but was not selected to start. Missing the 1997 race was disappointing to Steinmann and Harrington, because the race was run at Hollywood Park, Swiss Yodeler's home track.

Swiss Yodeler was retired in early 1999 following a third to Big Jag and Kona Gold in the Palos Verdes Handicap at Santa Anita.

Swiss Yodeler has 45 registered 2-year-olds and 51 registered yearlings. His book expanded to include 112 mares last year and is expected to reach 100 this year, according to John Turner of Pepper Oaks Farm.

Harrington expects the current 2-year-olds to race in Southern California throughout the year. He has high expectations for Oberwald, who was to start in a maiden race on Saturday, and Matt the Mighty, who is expected to debut in June.

"I think they'll run six furlongs and I think a few will run a mile and a sixteenth," Harrington said.

Just like Swiss Yodeler in 1996, the current group will be tested over longer distances later this year. Swiss Yodeler remained competitive and his progeny must do the same to maintain the stallion's position on a national level.