11/01/2002 1:00AM

Thunderello a horse who keeps on giving

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This year's Breeders' Cup Sprint nearly gave Florida its sixth Sprint winner in 19 tries. Thunderello, a 3-year-old colt by Montbrook out of On the Square (by In Reality) set the pace and lost in the final yards.

Thunderello is one of those horses who changes hands, and rewards each new owner. He was bred by the Four Horsemen's Ranch, managed and co-owned by Jeff Schwietert, and his story begins with D. Wayne Lukas, who also trains Orientate, the horse that beat Thunderello in the Sprint.

"Here's how I remember it," said Schwietert. "On the Square, dam of Thunderello, was bred by Tartan Farms. D. Wayne Lukas bought her from them. D. Wayne ran her once. Then she shows up at the Keeneland 1990 fall sale as a 4-year-old broodmare prospect. I'll never forget that day. They brought her into the ring and there was dead silence. I think we only made one or two bids and got a young well-bred In Reality mare for $12,000."

Over the next decade On the Square produced five winners, and two of them became stakes winners. Schwietert took Thunderello to the Ocala Breeders' Sale August 2000 yearling sale. "I thought I was going to hit a home run," he said. "Didn't happen. I was, I admit, disappointed when the colt brought $47,000."

David McKathan, of M&H Training and Sales, recalled the Thunderello purchase: "Buzz Chace bought the colt as agent for West Coast Thoroughbreds. I do his breaking and training, and he sent him over to me. West Coast Thoroughbreds sometimes does some pinhooking, and this colt was bought as a pinhook for the March '01 OBS 2 year-old sale. I knew we were in great shape when he worked an eighth in 10.40 seconds in that sale's under-tack show. Brian Morgan has a good eye for a racehorse. He bought him, as agent, for $175,000." The horse now races for Charles G. Mady.

Said Schwietert, "Add $10,000 to his yearling sales price - we'll be getting $10,000 as a breeder-nominator award for the colt's second-place finish in the Sprint. More important, we should be getting some decent bucks for Thunderello's weanling full brother when his time comes. The mare, On the Square, is back in foal to Montbrook."

Montbrook's fee has been raised to $20,000 for 2003. This is now the highest fee for any stallion currently in Florida.

Books thicker than ever

The Jockey Club estimates that there will be 37,000 foals in the crop of 2003. An estimated 4,000 of these foals will be Florida-breds and they will have been sired by some 260 resident stallions.

Stallion books not too long ago rarely numbered more than 50 bookings. Not so in this era. Eleven Florida stallions covered 100 or more mares this past season.

DunHill Stud's Grade 2 stakes winner Straight Man (by Saint Ballado out of Brilliant Melody, by Cornish Prince) is advertised with a $6,000 live-foal fee. In 2001, his first year in stud, he covered 114 mares. This year the number came in at 131 to lead all other Florida stallions. Ocala Stud has three stallions in the 100-plus ranks. They are Montbrook (109), newcomer Trippi (102), and the leading Florida freshman sire, Concerto (100). Bridlewood Farm has two on the list: Stormy Atlantic (128) and Halo's Image (103). Outflanker, at Clover Leaf Farm, covered 123. Yes It's True (Padua Stable) covered 114, Adcat (Farnsworth Farms) covered 113, Northern Afleet (Double Diamond Farm) had 104, and Tiger Ridge (Hartley-DeRenzo) had a book of 101.

Fifty-six Florida stallions covered 50 or more mares. At the bottom of the ladder were 24 stallions, who for all intents and purposes, were monogamous.