12/24/2002 12:00AM

Time to start studying new freshman stallions (A - D)

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LAS VEGAS - This year's freshman stallions will be a tough act to follow. Usually, there are two or three young sires who stand out from the rest and go on to successful careers. But the 2002 freshman sires were a special group, an impressive array of stallions, among them Elusive Quality, Distorted Humor, Awesome Again, Tale of the Cat, Grand Slam, Swiss Yodeler, Touch Gold, Stormy Atlantic, Coronado's Quest, and Indian Charlie. Other stallions who hint that they will be a force as their runners stretch out in distance and on turf include Gentlemen, Deputy Commander, King of Kings, Labeeb, Lasting Approval, Swain, and Awad.

But as the year comes to a close, the focus will turn to the new kids on the block - the 2003 freshman stallions. Included in this group are two Kentucky Derby winners, Real Quiet and Silver Charm; a Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up, Menifee; a Preakness runner-up, Free House; a Belmont Stakes winner, Victory Gallop; and a champion sprinter, Artax.

Who will be No. 1?

My selection for next year's hottest young sire is Forestry, a flashy-looking son of Storm Cat who has all the credentials to be a major success at stud. In addition to being by Storm Cat, Forestry had the single most important criteria to be a leading juvenile sire: high speed. He raced only at 3, winning 7 of 11 starts, including the 1999 King's Bishop Stakes, where he defeated some fast sprinters (among them Five Star Day, Successful Appeal, Vicar, and Doneraile Court) in stakes-record time (1:21).

But the key to Forestry's success as a stallion is his fourth dam, the stakes winner Sequence. Sequence produced three stakes winners, the most important being Gold Digger, the dam of Mr. Prospector. Mating Forestry to mares with Mr. Prospector in their pedigree will create the Rasmussen Factor (inbreeding to a superior female within five generations through different individuals). By crossing Forestry with Mr. Prospector, the resulting foal will get a double dose of Sequence, increasing the likelihood of producing a foal of quality.

The 2003 freshman stallions (part 1):

Artax (Marquetry). Second to Real Quiet in the Hollywood Futurity at 2, Artax was on the Triple Crown trail at 3, winning the Santa Catalina and San Felipe Stakes (defeating Real Quiet) before finishing third behind Indian Charlie and Real Quiet in the Santa Anita Derby. But Artax was by speed influence Marquetry (also the sire of champion sprinter Squirtle Squirt), and was kept sprinting at 4, when he was named champion after winning the Breeders' Cup Sprint, defeating Kona Gold, Big Jag, and Forestry. Because of his speed, expect Artax to be a very good sire of 2-year-olds. His runners should be most effective up to 1 1/16 miles.

Bianconi (Danzig). Danzig's sons have proven to be golden at stud, topped by the international sensation Danehill. Strictly a sprinter, Bianconi was a champion at 3 in Ireland, and is out of the foundation broodmare Fall Aspen, the dam of nine prominent stakes winners, including Timber Country, Prince of Thieves, Fort Wood, Northern Aspen, Hamas, Colorado Dancer (dam of Dubai Millennium), Mazzacano, and Elle Seule. It would be shocking if Bianconi is not a good sire.

His 2-year-olds should have speed on dirt and be even better on grass.

City by Night (Slew City Slew). Second to Honour and Glory in Keeneland's Breeders' Futurity, City by Night won the Lexington Stakes at 3 (over Prince of Thieves and Roar) and the Stephen Foster Handicap at 4. By a stakes-winning son of Seattle Slew, City by Night is out of a mare by Night Shift, who is a full brother to a champion racemare, Fanfreluche. His runners should be better at 3 at middle distances.

Crafty Friend (Crafty Prospector). Like many sons of Crafty Prospector, Crafty Friend was blessed with quality speed and was a gifted sprinter-miler, winning the Bel Air, Broward, Forego, and Tom Fool handicaps. Likewise, his 2-year-olds will have speed and be winning early.

Crypto Star (Cryptoclearance). Winner of the Arkansas and Louisiana derbies, Crypto Star was typical of offspring by the late-running Cryptoclearance, who is also the sire of this year's Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Volponi. Expect Crypto Star's runners to be best around two turns and better as they mature at 3.

Diamond (Mr. Prospector). While not in the same league as a full sister, stakes winner Educated Risk, or a half-sister, the champion Inside Information, Diamond was a minor stakes winner and could yield many juvenile winners. His runners should have good speed and be effective at 2.

Doneraile Court (Seattle Slew). Winner of the Nashua Stakes at 2, Doneraile Court won the Jerome Handicap and ran second in the Dwyer and Holy Bull stakes at 3. With Seattle Slew on top and Stop the Music as his damsire, Doneraile Court's runners who should be ready to win at 2 from five furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.