05/22/2003 11:00PM

Two barns have fans seeing double


AUBURN, Wash. - Last year Emerald Downs was host to a racing rarity when Arctic White, who was just the 12th Thoroughbred ever to be registered as white, made his debut at the Washington track.

This year's meet will have a novelty that may be more unusual still, as two sets of twins are nearing their debuts at Emerald.

According to The Jockey Club, there were 375,225 Thoroughbred foals registered in the United States during the 1990's. Just 345, or less than one-tenth of one percent, were twins. Only a small fraction of the twins ever raced, so to have two sets of twins competing at the same race meeting would go beyond being rare.

"I would have to guess that it is unprecedented," said Dr. Dan Dahl, Emerald's state veterinarian. "Twins are common with sheep and goats, and they do fine. With cows they do so-so. But horses are different. Thoroughbred twins have a very high mortality rate, and if they are both born alive they are much smaller and weaker than normal foals."

For that reason, the less viable of two fertilized eggs is routinely "pinched off," or aborted, when twins are detected by ultrasound in the first month of pregnancy.

"You would normally ultrasound a mare 15 to 17 days after breeding, and it is usually very easy to see the twins in the uterus," said Dr. Charles Barth, a trainer and veterinarian. "But every once in a great while, the eggs will be lined up one behind the other, and you'll miss them."

That is apparently what happened with Jillybell and Young Jack, the 3-year-old half-sister and half-brother to the 2002 Longacres Mile winner, Sabertooth. It's also what probably happened to One for You and And One for Me, the 2-year-old half-sisters to $232,000 earner Hilltown and two other stakes-placed runners.

Jillybell and Young Jack, who are by Peterhof out of Exit's Baby, were a complete surprise to owner and breeder Bob Sparling.

"Their mother was ultrasounded several times, but the twins never showed up," he said. "They were born two months prematurely, and it was a shock to everyone when two foals came out. Jillybell was about two-thirds the normal size, but Jack was a runt. He looked like a small dog."

Because of their size, no attempt was made to race the twins at 2. But they have been in steady training since early spring and are approaching their debuts.

"They both got approved from the gate on Wednesday, so they are pretty close to starting," said Kay Cooper, assistant to trainer Jim Penney. "They are both still short-legged, but they are very muscular and they train aggressively. They really seem to want to be racehorses, and so far they have done everything right."

While Jillybell and Young Jack have grown up to be nearly identical except for their sex, the same is not true of One for You and And One for Me. One for You has been far larger than her twin since birth, when she was initially thought to be a normal foal.

"I had sent their dam, Katherine Jean, to Kentucky to be bred to Dayjur, and she stayed at Gunston Hall farm to foal," said owner and breeder Barbara Ratcliff. "She had three ultrasounds and everything was fine, and when One for You was born they called and said I had an average-sized filly. Then 25 minutes later they called back and said I had another one.

"And One for Me was much smaller, so we called them Dr. Evil and Mini Me. Katherine Jean tried to take care of both of them, but One for You wouldn't let And One for Me nurse, so we had to get a nursemare for her."

As a market breeder, Ratcliff had mixed feelings about the twins. On the one hand, they were not salable because of the universal prejudice against twins in racing. On the other, she had two well-bred broodmare prospects.

"Twins have all the genetics of normal horses, so they can be terrific broodmares," she said. "The best example is probably Stop on Red, who had a twin named Go on Green. Stop on Red was the dam of Spectacular, who was the dam of Spectacular Bid."

According to trainer Bill Tollett and his son and assistant, David Tollett, Ratcliff's twins are much more than broodmare prospects.

"One for You is a runner," said David Tollett. "She is a gorgeous filly and she worked so well that we entered her in a maiden special weight race a couple of weeks ago. She got sick and we had to scratch her, but we really thought she had a chance to win. There is nothing wrong with this horse.

"And One for Me is smaller, but she has the same attitude and we think she has ability, too. She is probably six weeks away from racing, but One for You will be back in as soon as we can find a race for her. She breezed a half-mile in 48 last Sunday. We'll probably give her one more work, then run her."

Whatever her odds might be, they will pale in comparison to the odds she has already overcome.