06/19/2003 11:00PM

They're Boppin' at Keswick again

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Virginia's world-renowned Keswick Stables near Charlottesville, Va., owned and operated by Peggy Augustus, has been struck by misfortune over the past several years. But one runner is doing his best to carry the farm's reputation forward.

Bop, a 6-year-old bred in partnership by Keswick Stables, ranks among the top turf sprinters on the East Coast. Campaigned by Jonas Cash's Folly Quarter Stable, which purchased him for $95,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern fall yearling sale, Bop returns each summer to his home state of Virginia and flaunts his talent at Colonial Downs.

The Punch Line Stakes, run on June 14 at Colonial, fell to Bop for the third consecutive year. Bet down to 1-5 for the five-furlong turf race, Bop sprinted to an early lead and held on for a neck victory, covering the distance in a slightly slower time than his course record performance of 55.85 seconds last year.

Keswick's past several foal crops were decimated by a fungus that spread throughout the pastures and caused many mares to abort, according to Augustus, who has celebrated many major achievements at the farm, established in 1952 by her late mother, Elizabeth Augustus Knight.

The problem has been identified and treated, and Augustus expects her top-class broodmare band to resume full production.

Stellar horses produced at Keswick include Northern Dancer's dam, Natalma (bred in partnership with Daniel G. Van Clief), whom Keswick sold for $35,000 at Saratoga; champions Alwuhush and Johnny D.; millionaires Simply Majestic and Sabin; Grade 1 winner Husband; and Japanese star Eishin Guymon.

Bop, who has earned $365,766 while winning 12 of his 23 career starts (including six stakes wins), comes from a family that has earned many distinctions for Keswick. Augustus's mother privately purchased Bop's superbly bred third dam, Treasure Chest (by Rough'n Tumble out of Iltis, by War Relic), from Ocala Stud Farm back in 1967.

Augustus recalled how Knight happened upon Treasure Chest, a stakes-winning full sister to the blue-hen mare My Dear Girl (dam of In Reality).

"My mother loved to bid at auction sales," Augustus said. "She went to the Keeneland fall sale, looking for one really good mare, and was outbid on every one.

"Then someone told her about Treasure Chest, and she sent our farm manager, Joe Alexander, to Florida to buy her. Joe called from Florida, and told my mother she'd have to come down and see the mare herself; he couldn't pass her because of her looks. She was a little mare with a plain head - light-bodied and no muscle tone. My mother took a chance on her, because she had a good-looking foal at her side [Treasure Chest's first foal, a Candy Spots filly named Miss Treasure]. And all of her foals after that were good-looking, too."

Treasure Chest produced five stakes horses for Keswick, including Kanz, a group winner in England, and multiple stakes winner Gold Treasure (by Northern Dancer).

Bop (by Rahy) is out of Gold Treasure's stakes-placed daughter Golden Guinea (by Fappiano). Golden Guinea has had a troubled broodmare career, due in part to Keswick's pasture problems. Her only other foal to race is a 1995 Deputy Minister filly Hishi Treasure, who sold for $240,000 at Saratoga and is a multiple winner in Japan.

Long a major consignor at Saratoga, Augustus sold Bop at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic (Timonium) sale after he failed to meet his reserve at the Spa. "A lot of people liked him, but there was a shadow on one of his X-rays," Augustus recalled. "Rumors got around, and people made it out to be something terrible, when it wasn't."

Dismayed by the episode, Augustus entered her first-ever consignment at Timonium that fall, selling two horses: Bop, and a Thunder Gulch filly out of her Blushing Groom mare L'Amour Toujours. Both have done her proud. The filly, sold for $100,000, and named C'Est l'Amour, won the Grade 2 Nassau County Stakes and finished second in the Grade 1 Acorn, retiring with earnings of $265,137.