06/27/2002 12:00AM

Top fillies show best-case homebred scenario


LEXINGTON, Ky. - After their victories last weekend, Azeri and Raging Fever are clearly at the head of their division, fillies aged 4 and up, on the West Coast and the East Coast. Unless their competition can come up with something new, Azeri and Raging Fever will be tough on the horses they have already beaten until they hook up for an expected Eclipse Award showdown in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Both the chestnut Azeri and the dark brown Raging Fever are products of top homebreeding operations. Azeri was bred in Kentucky by the late Allen Paulson, and she is raced by Paulson's estate, headed by Michael Paulson.

Raging Fever was bred in Kentucky by Edward P. Evans and races for him. Homebreeding is very complex and uncertain, as illustrated by the recent fortunes of the dams of these top fillies.

In between two graded winners by Storm Cat, Raging Fever's dam, Pennant Fever, produced a nonwinner by Silver Ghost and a Red Ransom filly who died without starting. The mare's 2-year-old is a full brother to Stormin Fever and Raging Fever named Roaring Fever. Last year, Pennant Fever's foal died, although whether that was attributable to the foal loss syndrome was unclear. Because of complications from foaling, Pennant Fever was not bred back for this year, but she is in foal to Storm Cat on an April 15 cover.

Pennant Fever's fortunes have been troubled the last couple of years, but Zodiac Miss, the Australian-bred dam of Azeri, suffered a more cruel fate.

The mare and two of her four foals are dead. A group stakes winner in her homeland who ran second in the Magic Millions 2-year-old Classic, Zodiac Miss was already a proven racer when Paulson bought her and brought her to the United States. After a brief racing experiment in America, she went into Paulson's broodmare band.

Zodiac Miss's first foal, a full sister to Azeri, died, and her second foal is unraced. Azeri is the mare's third foal, and her last foal (by Theatrical) died in 1999, when Zodiac Miss also died. Ted Carr, manager of Paulson's Brookside Farm (now the Diamond A Farms of Gerald Ford), said, "Lightning killed that mare and her foal. As I recall, it was the opening night of the summer sale, and a summer storm had blown up. As Mr. Paulson, Madeleine, and I were heading out to the sale, I looked over in the front field, and there was a mare and foal down. When I got over to them, they were lying side by side out in the middle of an open field."

Although there wasn't anything near them to draw the lightning, a lightning bolt had struck them down.

As the uncertain outcomes above indicate, the horse business is no place for someone who can't take a hit and keep on going. But sometimes, just sometimes, the breeder gets everything to work out, and a star is born.

Even aside from the fillies above, both Allen Paulson's homebreds and those of Evans are having a great year. The stock produced by Brookside in Kentucky also include Grade 1 winners Astra and Del Mar Show. The homebreds from Evans's program include Brooklyn Handicap winner Seeking Daylight, as well as the current graded stakes winners Gygistar and With Ability. Evans also bred and races multiple graded winner Summer Colony, who is among the top older mares in the country and is the only horse to defeat Azeri this year.

In addition to being developed by home breeders, both Azeri and Raging Fever are sired by Grade 1 winners of very good pedigree.

Azeri is a daughter of the Mr. Prospector stallion Jade Hunter, who won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park and Donn handicaps and ran second in the Widener, and went to stud at Brookside. In addition to Azeri, Jade Hunter has sired the Grade 1 winners Yagli, Stuka, and Diazo, all for Paulson.

Raging Fever is a daughter of the world's most commercially accepted stallion, Storm Cat, who won the Grade 1 Young America Stakes and was a desperately close second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Storm Cat has sired some two dozen Grade 1 or Group 1 winners around the world.

Given their quality pedigrees and racing records, some observers would ask why Jade Hunter stands for a stud fee of $10,000, whereas Storm Cat is standing for $500,000.

The answer lies in their proportions of top performers. Although Jade Hunter has been a very solid stallion, Storm Cat has an amazing list of racers at the highest level, including Breeders' Cup Classic winner Cat Thief, classic winner Tabasco Cat, European champion Giant's Causeway, and such American stars as Desert Stormer, Sharp Cat, and Sardula.

In short, with horse breeding just as with baseball, the home run hitter draws the huge money, while a solid player who lacks that star status earns much less.

One corollary of Storm Cat's charisma is that his sons now are very much in demand as well, and Hopeful winner Hennessy sired last year's international champion juvenile, Johannesburg. In addition to those mentioned above, High Yield, Aljabr, Forestry, Tale of the Cat, and Exploit are highly regarded young sons of Storm Cat, and another in that category is a full brother to Raging Fever, Stormin Fever.

Standing at Airdrie Stud, Stormin Fever is the first foal of his dam, the Seattle Slew mare Pennant Fever. Although his best victory came in the Grade 3 Sport Page, he twice ran second in the Vosburgh (Grade 1) and produced some extraordinary Beyer figures among his eight victories on the racetrack.