04/17/2002 11:00PM

Two sons of Harlan share Blue Grass glory

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Harlan's Holiday, winner of last Saturday's Blue Grass Stakes and the leading contender for the Kentucky Derby, is heading toward Louisville with increasing speed. But the colt, a muscular bay, did not start his life as one of the select.

Born on Double D Farm near Medina, Ohio, Harlan's Holiday is one of the thousands of inexpensively bred foals born every year. Yet he is one of the few to shake the everyday dust off his hooves and rise to fame.

Although he was a nice-looking colt, Harlan's Holiday sold the first time for a modest sum. Carole Hassell, the general manager of Double D Farm, said, "We sold the colt privately for $13,500. Since we had only $3,500 invested in the stud fee, it seemed an appropriate price at the time, and we also sold another Harlan colt in the same package."

Not only did Double D have a small investment in the stud fee, but the farm also had picked up the dam of Harlan's Holiday - the winning Affirmed mare Christmas in Aiken - for only $15,000 while in foal to Kayawan at the 1997 Keeneland November breeding stock sales.

The lean days are over for Harlan's Holiday and his relatives. A good horse makes all his family look better, and even before Harlan's Holiday went into training, he was showing what horsemen wanted.

Hassell noted that Christmas in Aiken "puts a dynamic foal on the ground," and Harlan's Holiday progressed with the sort of physical development that made him a solid commodity at the yearling sales.

At the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of select yearlings, Harlan's Holiday brought $97,000 from Jack and Laurie Wolf's Starlight Stable. That was a hefty improvement on his purchase price as a foal, but the Wolfs have reaped the true bonanza, as Harlan's Holiday has earned nearly $1.5 million to date.

Now that Harlan's Holiday is a favorite for the Derby, his dam and siblings are among the toast of the turf. Even so, the colt's 2-year-old half-brother, named Boxcar Cat, was bought for $95,000 at the Equine Spectrum online auction on Wednesday. The colt had previously been bought back for $47,000 at last year's Keeneland October yearling sale.

Christmas in Aiken is in Kentucky at Taylor Made Farm, where she is in foal to Taylor Made stallion Forestry on a March 1 cover. Hassell described Christmas in Aiken as a "15.3 hand mare who is light bay, correct, and well-balanced. We like mares that have a racy look, and that fits her."

Harlan's Holiday is the third foal from Christmas in Aiken. Her fourth is the juvenile colt Boxcar Cat, by the Storm Cat stallion Railway Cat, and she has a yearling colt by Spirit Voices (a son of Private Account who is a half-brother to Miesque). The mare was late foaling in 2001 and, after a single cover, was left empty for an early cover this year.

Harlan, the sire of Harlan's Holiday, died of a ruptured aorta in February of 1999. Harlan's Holiday comes from Harlan's last full crop, one of 28 foals of 1999. As his fifth and final crop, the stallion covered seven mares in 1999, and they produced seven foals the following year.

With Harlan's Holiday's victory in the Blue Grass, Harlan now has sired two winners of the Blue Grass. The first was Menifee, a big and robust horse out of the excellent broodmare Anne Campbell.

Menifee was part of Harlan's first crop, and the stallion was a largely unproven sire at the time of his death.

Bred and raced by Arthur Hancock and W.T. Young, Harlan won the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes and retired to stud at Stone Farm, where he sired Menifee for Hancock.

In addition to winning the Blue Grass, the Haskell, and more than $1.7 million, Menifee ran second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness in 1999. He is now at Stone Farm as a replacement for his sire.

But no unproven sire is an even swap for a proven one. And if Harlan were still alive today, he could make a reasonable claim to be the best son of Storm Cat at stud, or at least the most classically inclined, since Menifee was one of the favorites for the Kentucky Derby and acquitted himself admirably.

If Harlan's Holiday wins the classic, he will have trumped his paternal half-brother and completed a story of rags to riches that would make Horace Greeley smile.