06/28/2001 11:00PM

They're old, but they're still capable

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Twenty years ago the Hyperion line was well represented in Florida. Noholme II and his sons Nodouble and Medieval Man were two of the more popular sires of this line.

Today, the 27-year-old That's a Nice is one of the few Hyperion-line stallions still standing in Florida. A son of the Noholme II stallion Hey Good Lookin, That's a Nice stands at Noel and Bobbie Hickey's Irish Acres Farm. That's a Nice, a graded stakes winner, had a book of six mares this year and all are reported in foal.

"What a wonderful stallion he has been for me," said Noel Hickey, who trained him and has managed his stallion career, which has taken That's a Nice from Florida to Illinois and back to Florida. "He sired Lady Shirl for me, among others. Lady Shirl, as you might remember, was right in the thick of it for an Eclipse Award as the champion turf filly or mare 10 years ago, but I screwed it up. She won the Flower Bowl Handicap and then got sick on me. I thought I had to win another race to sew up the championship, so I sent her back to the races and she wasn't ready."

That's a Nice has had 18 crops to the races. Like so many of his line, his get are tough and dependable, with 83 percent of his foals starting and almost the same percentage of them winning. Twenty-seven, or 11 percent, of his runners have earned black type.

Another older Florida stallion is Believe It, who is owned by Russell Sherrod's R Bar S Stable and stands at Cloverleaf Farms II. He's 26, and to put his age in proper perspective, he was a classmate of Alydar and Affirmed and chased them on several occasions. When Alydar and Affirmed were not in the line-up, Believe It won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes and Grade 2 Heritage Stakes at 2, and the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at 3.

"We bred him to 15 mares this year," said Brent Fernung, manager of Cloverleaf Farms II. "The old boy has 13 of them in foal.

"Commercial breeders usually want something younger and more fashionable, so even though Believe It is super-fertile, it's tough. Most of the outsiders who booked to him are probably going to race. Look, for a $2,500 fee where are you going to find a horse that has sired 27 stakes winners and close to $22 million in earnings?"

Believe It shares the same sire line as Valid Appeal. The two of them are the only meaningful links to Man o' War in Florida, although there are numerous sons and grandsons of Valid Appeal standing in the Sunshine State and elsewhere. For example, Valid Expectations, now in Texas, is currently the nation's leading freshman sire in progeny earnings. He entered stud in Florida at Mockingbird Farm.

* Blue Ensign, who was syndicated to stand in Florida under the auspices of the late Al Porco (Comfort Acres Farm), is dead at the age of 24. The son of Hoist the Flag stood at several farms before ending up at Sez Who Thoroughbreds.

Blue Ensign was a graded stakes winner, and is the sire of 22 stakes winners and the earners of more than $14 million. His dam, Laughter, by Bold Ruler, is a half-sister to the champion Ruffian.