06/07/2005 11:00PM

Twists of fate tie Alex to breeder

Small-time horseman John Martin Silvertand is the breeder of record for Afleet Alex, thanks to a deal that involved no money.

At the time, it seemed like a run-of-the-mill horse deal for some middling broodmares. But when John Martin Silvertand agreed three years ago to take ownership of a group of mares in exchange for foal-sharing rights, he unwittingly acquired a new lease on life and a place in the record book as a Preakness-winning breeder.

Silvertand, 60, can't take credit for the mating that produced Preakness winner Afleet Alex. That honor, he is quick to point out, belongs to a couple of Florida horsemen - John Devers, who owned the mare Maggy Hawk back in 2001, and Jim Hatchett, who put up the stud fee to send Maggy Hawk to the then-unproven stallion Northern Afleet. But because Silvertand acquired Maggy Hawk and owned her when she gave birth to her leggy colt on May 9, 2002, he is the breeder of record - and that has made all the difference in the world.

"It's just been wonderful, and I hope it continues," Silvertand, a former Royal Air Force pilot and a retired entrepreneur, said from his home in Palm Beach County, Fla.

But perhaps most importantly, from Silvertand's point of view, is the thrill ride he has gotten from his involvement with Afleet Alex and the colt's owner, Cash Is King Stable. The five-person partnership has reached out to Silvertand as Afleet Alex has become a classic winner, and Silvertand stood with them in the Preakness winner's circle. It has been a joyous experience that he believes has helped him fight cancer that doctors told him in 2002 was terminal

"It's certainly helped keep me focused," he said. "When one has cancer, one tends to drift into a state of self-pity, and I've managed to avoid that. I firmly believe I am doing everything I can to counteract this disease. I have family, I have faith, and I have doctors. But on top of that I also have Afleet Alex, which nobody else has."

Planning his trips to watch Afleet Alex's races keeps Silvertand thinking ahead and thinking positive. As a result, he said, "the tumor in my liver has actually diminished in size. It's amazing, and the doctors say so, too. I think it has a lot to do with the camaraderie of these people and this horse."

Maggy Hawk's path to Silvertand is a study in the informal nature of bloodstock deals that go on every day outside the glittering, publicized atmosphere of the auction ring, deals that are sometimes based on barter agreements rather than gaudy prices.

A $5,000 juvenile at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's June 2-year-old auction, Maggy Hawk started her brief career as a runner for Walter Nazarenko at Calder Race Course in Miami. She won once in her four starts, narrowly taking a maiden special weight race, before returning from her first turf race with a slab fracture in her knee.

Her trainer, Hatchett, liked the Hawkster filly but knew her owner didn't want any broodmares. So he called another client, Devers, to see if he would be interested in taking Maggy Hawk. Devers, a breeder, was a logical person to call, because, as Hatchett knew, Devers had been impressed by Maggy Hawk's gutsy performance in her sole victory. Devers struck a deal with Nazarenko that involved no money: Devers and Nazarenko would split ownership of Maggy Hawk's first foal, and then Devers would take over the mare - effectively taking an expense off Nazarenko's hands.

Hatchett later entered into a foal-share agreement with Devers, putting up the season to Northern Afleet that eventually resulted in Afleet Alex.

"At the time, I was really high on Northern Afleet," Hatchett said recently from Florida. "I had had a lot of horses by Rizzi, who was a really nice Afleet stallion down here. In fact, he was one of the only Afleet stallions standing in the country at the time. When Northern Afleet came along, I thought, 'Here's a better racehorse, a better individual, and a better pedigree than Rizzi.' And if Rizzi made such a good stallion, I thought Northern Afleet could be even better."

Mating Northern Afleet to Maggy Hawk turned out to be a very good idea. Their first mating produced the 2000 colt Unforgettable Max, who would become a Grade 2-placed stakes winner with more than $346,000 in earnings. The second mating produced Afleet Alex. But neither Devers nor Hatchett knew that when Devers, under some financial strain, was forced to reduce his broodmare band. He kept two of his 10 mares, and Maggy Hawk just missed the cut, to his lasting regret.

"Maggy would have been my next choice to keep," Devers said. "But Unforgettable Max hadn't done much at the time," he said, adding that the mare's first foal, a 1999 Mister Jolie filly, had not sold well and never raced.

Devers put Maggy Hawk and seven other mares on the market, all in foal to Northern Afleet.

"I tried to sell all eight for $65,000 in a package deal," he said. But there were no takers.

Enter John Martin Silvertand, a small-time breeder who met Devers through Hatchett. Silvertand and Devers worked out yet another barter deal, in which Silvertand would own the mares and the pair would split ownership of the foals. The man who won a coin toss would get first choice of the foals.

Devers won that toss in 2002 and selected Afleet Alex, as Silvertand said he would have done if he had won the flip. Silvertand's goal would have been to race the colt, but Devers was a commercial breeder and intended to sell him.

"I would have shared him with Devers, 50-50, and taken the colt out of the mix if I had thought of that at the time," Silvertand said. "But I didn't think of it, therefore it passed us by."

Devers sold the colt privately as a weanling to Joe Allen, who in turn sent him to Fasig-Tipton Midlantic's 2-year-old sale, where he brought $75,000 from his current owner, Cash Is King Stable. Looking back on it, does Devers regret letting go of the mare and her foal?

"Obviously, I do," he said. "But you do what you have to do."

For Silvertand, the connection to Hatchett, Devers, and Maggy Hawk has been transformative.

"I had a few horses, not with very much success," Silvertand said. "I was at the bottom of the pile, for sure, until I met up with Jimmy Hatchett. He would train and race horses to sell, and we actually made a little bit of money. And then I got the broodmares through Hatchett and Devers. Maggy Hawk was the pride and joy of the bunch."

Silvertand has had a varied and interesting life. In addition to his years in the RAF, he has owned a small airline, imported wines and spirits in Bermuda, and owned a custom furniture company with his wife, Carolyn. But the fun he's having now might be the pinnacle. And he doesn't regret that he lost Afleet Alex in that coin toss back in 2002.

"I'm glad the people who have him got him," he said. "Not only are they very nice people, but if I would have had him I would probably have brought him down to Calder and he would be racing for $16,000 or $25,000 claimers by now. It was just the luck of the draw. Different things happen to different people. They happen to be very lucky with this horse."

Silvertand may get his chance with another horse out of Maggy Hawk. He sold most of his 10 mares after his cancer diagnosis in 2002, but he still has a yearling out of Maggy Hawk who Silvertand said is developing impressively at Bridlewood Farm in Ocala. The filly in question is John's Diamond, Afleet Alex's half-sister by Tour d'Or, and Silvertand is high on her chances to make a good runner.

"I'm going to keep this one," he said. "She's wonderfully conformed and a joy to behold. I might sell 50 percent of her, but I want some action out of this one."