05/27/2003 11:00PM

Syndicate patience pays off


ELMONT, N.Y. - A decision made last fall bore rich dividends at Belmont Park on Memorial Day when Aldebaran upset the $750,000 Metropolitan Handicap.

Aldebaran, a Mr. Prospector horse owned and bred by the Flaxman Stable of the Niarchos shipping family, began his career in Europe, was returned to the United States, and won a stakes on the grass in his American debut. He ran well in a number of major races last season, including the Met Mile, in which he was second to Swept Overboard. Following the Breeders' Cup, the Flaxman organization held a meeting to discuss breeding plans for the year ahead. Attending were representatives of a syndicate that months before had purchased a half-interest in Aldebaran for breeding purposes.

When the syndicate was originally formed, publisher and breeder Barry Weisbord was invited to participate. When the prospective syndicate leader changed plans, Weisbord put a new group together including Richard Santulli and John Phillips of Darby Dan Farm, where Aldebaran will eventually stand at stud. Santulli and Weisbord raced the champion sprinter Safely Kept as partners.

Aldebaran was tentatively scheduled for retirement at the end of last season, but syndicate members asked for another year. They reasoned that Aldebaran ran well to be second in four Grade 1 races during the campaign and was unlucky not to win one or two. They felt he could enhance his stature as a stallion prospect with the opportunities offered by another year of racing.

The mainstream of thought today is to get promising stallion prospects to stud as soon as possible. They are bred to 100 or more mares, and there is a meaningful cash flow almost immediately. So the syndicate proposal was a bit of a departure, but it was accepted.

The results have been heartening. Aldebaran won three of his four starts, two of them Grade 1 events. His Met Mile victory was particularly welcome because it is held in such high regard by breeders as a sire credential. Breeders like speed in their stallions, and the Met Mile has a history of winning stallions with quality speed.

Congaree, who beat Aldebaran in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct last month, was a solid 4-5 favorite in the Met Mile. Najran, winner of the Westchester Mile at Belmont in early May, also drew support and came out running. With Congaree alongside, Najran stepped a lively quarter in 22.20 seconds, the half-mile in 44.40. Jerry Bailey, on Aldebaran, was far back but coming on purposefully.

Aldebaran surged to the lead in the upper stretch, looked like a comfortable winner, but he was faced with a come-on threat by Saarland and had to drive for the decision. He got the mile in a crisp 1:34.

"Bailey is learning to wait with Aldebaran," winning trainer Bobby Frankel said. "He used to have him involved early, but this colt wants to find his best stride first. He could make his next start in the $750,000 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 14."