06/23/2006 12:00AM

'Ugliest' colt looking pretty good after Foster

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Seek Gold, here with jockey Calvin Borel after their Stephen Foster victory, caught the eye of trainer Nick Zito in the September 2001 Keeneland yearling sale.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - With a dramatic finish in the middle of the track to win the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs, Seek Gold delivered on the long pent-up promise of his breeding and apparent ability. A son of Belmont winner Touch Gold and the Alydar mare Aly's Adita, Seek Gold had placed in graded stakes the last two seasons without winning one. Now he is a Grade 1 winner.

With that victory, the 6-year-old fulfilled expectations for the breeder, the Highfield Farm of Dr. John and Cathy Fike, and trainer Nick Zito, who selected Seek Gold at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2001.

Jim Schenck, bloodstock and matings consultant for Fike, said that Seek Gold "was the ugliest colt in the September sale, and except for one guy, nobody liked this horse. There was nobody on him, nobody had checked out the radiographs in the repository, nothing. But the one person who really liked him was Nick Zito."

Zito, at the sale buying on behalf of Robert LaPenta, recalled the situation vividly, in part because the sale was during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"That was the first year that Mr. LaPenta had me buy yearlings with a plan to resell them and go forward from there," Zito said. "It was an interesting plan that has produced some really good horses."

Examples include Pomeroy, Zavata, Superfly, and The Cliff's Edge, as well as Seek Gold.

In selecting yearlings for LaPenta's program, Zito said he "liked Seek Gold a lot, and he was one of our best choices. For some reason with 9/11, not knowing what direction the country was going, I missed bidding on the horse. Then, Jim Schenck asked me why I hadn't bought the Touch Gold, and I said, 'He's already sold?' "

Fike had bought the colt back for $115,000, and Zito was able to secure the colt for LaPenta privately for $110,000. Zito sighed, "Thank God nobody else bid on him."

LaPenta's program is to acquire good yearlings and prepare them to be top juveniles in training the next spring, then race any who don't sell.

In the case of Seek Gold, the transformation from ugly duckling to racing swan was amazing. He had progressed so well and looked so good, Fike said, "that we tried to buy him back to race."

Seek Gold was bought back at the Keeneland April sale for $240,000, however, and raced for LaPenta until he was recently sold to Bowman Couch Racing LLC. Ron Moquett trained Seek Gold for the Foster.

One person not greatly surprised by the transformation in Seek Gold was Zito. He said: "At the time of the yearling sales, I thought he was special. But I was guessing that he would become a better animal. In this case, I was right, but I never buy a horse for instant gratification. It's always for two years or even three years down the road. They don't run the classics in the spring of their 2-year-old season."

The classics are for 3-year-olds, and Seek Gold was expected to show his best form with maturity, just as his stakes-winning dam, Aly's Adita, had done following her purchase by Fike.

A former jockey and trainer, Schenck said, "I was galloping horses at the time. I knew some of the exercise riders at Calumet, and they told me she was a nice horse. So we bought Aly's Adita in January of 1991 at Keeneland as an unraced 3-year-old out of the Calumet dispersal" for $210,000.

A half-sister to champion Davona Dale, Aly's Adita was a thoroughly useful racer for Fike. She won 6 of 21 starts and greatly enhanced her substantial value as a broodmare with a victory in the listed Pippin Stakes.

Both Aly's Adita and Davona Dale were produced by the good mare Royal Entrance, a daughter of Tim Tam and a half-sister to Sun Gate, the dam of Preakness Stakes winner Gate Dancer. Royal Entrance and Sun Gate are both daughters of the high-class stakes winner Prince's Gate, who won the Bed o' Roses Handicap. Prince's Gate is a half-sister to Manhattan Handicap winner Happy Way (by Herbager) and is out of Siena Way, a full sister to Triple Crown winner Citation.

Like Citation, all those horses, except Gate Dancer, were bred by Calumet Farm, which also bred Aly's Adita. Having such an exceptional heritage to work with, Fike has enjoyed immense success breeding and racing from this mare, earning gross sales of more than $1.5 million from her offspring. Nor are the good returns over for the breeder's program. Aly's Adita has a yearling colt by the promising freshman sire Officer who now has a Grade 1 update for the catalog page in September, and the mare is back in foal to Touch Gold

Fike would like to get a full sister to the Seek Gold out of the mare, and he said: "She is a really beautiful mare, even now that she is older. Last year, she was in foal to Touch Gold and slipped. This year, she has been bred five times to Touch Gold and has just been scanned in foal to the stallion."