07/03/2003 11:00PM

Tagg puts eye to good use in yearling show

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The trip was a homecoming for Kentucky Derby- and Preakness-winning trainer Barclay Tagg, who returned to the state where he had trained horses for nearly 30 years to judge this year's 69th annual Maryland Horse Breeders Association's yearling show last Sunday.

Tagg swapped stories with dozens of old acquaintances. He attended a crab feast at one of his old stomping grounds, Merryland Farm, a Thoroughbred nursery and training center in Baltimore County where years ago he found work galloping horses.

Then came the task of selecting six class winners from a total of 112 yearlings who paraded before him in the show ring at the State Fairgrounds in Timonium. At the end of the day, Tagg chose as grand champion a filly whose dam was purchased from a classified ad in the Baltimore Sun.

Seven years ago Brice Ridgely spotted the advertisement for a Thoroughbred mare. For $3,500 he purchased 11-year-old Fabulous Vee and her just-weaned foal, a filly by Norquestor. "You need luck in this business," Ridgely said. "I got lucky with Fabulous Vee."

Ridgely named the Norquestor weanling Vee Vee Star and, with John Tammaro III training, saw her finish third behind champion Silverbulletday in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Vee Vee Star made 10 career starts, won two of them and also finished third in the Caesar's Wish Stakes.

Vee Vee Star joined her dam in Ridgely's Spring Meadow Farm broodmare band. In 2002, Fabulous Vee foaled a lovely dark bay filly by Not for Love. Vee Vee Star produced an equally attractive dark bay colt by Malibu Moon.

Ridgely brought both yearlings in his first venture to the show, and his only two entrants won the largest classes of the day. The Not for Love filly, winner of Class 4, is this year's grand champion, while the colt took the blue ribbon in Class 1. With their victories, Ridgely's yearlings earned $3,000 in prize money and another $100 for the groom's award for the championship class. And they, as well as every yearling who was shown this year, are eligible for the $40,000 show premiums to be distributed among the contestants who earn the most money on the track during their 2- and 3-year-old seasons.

Tagg, who was accompanied in the ring by his assistant trainer, Robin Smullen, said that each of the six class winners was the type of horse they would pick out at the sales. As for the champion filly, he said, "She was very smooth overall. She had balance and carried herself well."

Ridgely's two yearlings also were well turned-out. Ridgely, who maintains a large working farm in Cooksville, did much of the show preparation with the assistance of Towson State University student Nancy Wise. Both yearlings may sell at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale in the consignment of Ridgely's longtime friend, Bill Reightler.

Ridgely sold Vee Vee Stars first foal, a Partner's Hero filly, at last year's sale for $30,000. Fabulous Vee's Not for Love filly failed to reach her reserve and was kept by Ridgely. The 2-year-old is now in training with Jann Anderson at Laurel.

Tagg selected as his reserve champion a colt by Tale of the Cat out of Azusa, by Flying Paster. The winner of the third class was one of three homebreds brought to the show by Maureen and Pat Konka, who had nearly as successful a day as Ridgely. Their filly by Belong to Me, a half-sister to Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher Atswhatimtalknbout (out of Lucinda K, by Red Ransom), was pinned the winner of Class 6. Both Tagg and Smullen agreed that the powerfully built Tale of the Cat colt has the looks of a stakes-caliber horse. "If he were in our price range, he's a horse we'd buy," Tagg said.

Other class winners were Iris Coggins's colt from the first crop of Crowd Pleaser out of Lady Wilhemina, by Vice Regent (Class 2), and Michael Leach's filly by Partner's Hero-Ill Be Back, by Diablo (Class 5). Complete results of the show may be found on the Maryland Horse Breeders Association's website at www.marylandthoroughbred.com.