03/04/2004 12:00AM

Unusual Heat a freebie cover no more

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When Unusual Heat entered stud in 1998, the partners who owned him were so eager to attract mare owners that the they waived the stud fee.

"The fee was please," recalled co-owner Madeline Auerbach, drawing out the last word for emphasis.

Six years later, most mare owners can not get to Unusual Heat. He was booked full this year at $5,000, live foal.

The success is quite a turnaround for a former $80,000 claimer whom no one wanted at the end of his racing career.

Through Tuesday, Unusual Heat was 11th on the California general sire list with progeny earnings of $295,082. Last year, he finished 19th on the overall list with earnings of $1,535,387. In 2002, he finished 49th with $609,652.

Unusual Heat is the sire of Lennyfromalibu, the winner of the California Cup Mile last November and the runner-up in the Sensational Star Handicap on Feb. 14. A winner of 5 of 16 starts and $339,506, Lennyfromalibu will make his next start in the $100,000 Crystal Water Handicap on March 13.

Unusual Heat's leading female earner is Tucked Away, the winner of the Fleet Treat Stakes at Del Mar last summer. She has won 3 of 15 starts and $190,702.

None of this was expected when Madeline Auerbach, her late husband Jim Auerbach, Russell Wolkoff, and trainer Barry Abrams and his brother David formed the partnership to stand the horse at stud.

"We've done everything by feel," Auerbach said. "We think we're doing it right. We're doing the best we can with limited knowledge."

Unusual Heat is by Nureyev, the champion racehorse and top stallion. His dam, Rossard, was a champion in Denmark and Sweden and won the 1984 Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont Park.

Unusual Heat was bred in Kentucky and began his career in Ireland, where he won three minor stakes from 1992 to 1994 while trained by Dermot Weld. Unusual Heat failed to win a stakes in the United States.

He missed the 1995 season and made six starts in 1996 at 6, including a third-place finish to 1995 champion turf male Northern Spur in an allowance race at Hollywood Park in May of that year. He was claimed for $80,000 on June 10, the first time he ran for a tag.

Six days later, he started in the Grade 1 Shoemaker Handicap, finishing sixth.

"We claimed him to go in the Shoemaker," Auerbach said.

Barry Abrams suggested the claim, which prompted teasing about the purchase price. "You're stepping out," Auerbach told Abrams at the time.

Unusual Heat won his final start but never made it to the winner's circle. Jockey Laffit Pincay Jr. dismounted on the backstretch after the horse suffered a tendon injury.

After his retirement, some partners sold their interests. Abrams thought he had a buyer who wanted Unusual Heat as a stallion project, but the deal collapsed.

Instead, a portion of the group kept Unusual Heat and sent him to stud at a farm owned by the late trainer Walter Greenman in Hemet. Unusual Heat stood his first season there before moving to Old English Rancho in Sanger, Calif., which is operated by Patsy McKuen and Bud Johnston.

"We had more room to grow up there," Auerbach said. "Patsy and Bud were really instrumental in helping us."

Without a stud fee, his foal crop grew, although Auerbach said, one person told her the stallion was being bred to "backyard mares."

Abrams defends the decision to give away the stud fees, saying it was vital to promote the stallion.

"The whole idea was to get some horses on the grounds," he said.

Abrams saw breeding mares to Unusual Heat as an alternative to having to claim new stock down the road.

"We took a shot because the claiming business wasn't going anywhere in California," he said. "If you invest x amount of dollars you won't get x back. We decided to breed our own. We had eight mares that were basically slow horses. We could have sold them to Arizona, but we decided to keep them and breed to him."

With the presence of a stud fee and increased demand, Abrams said, Unusual Heat could attract attention at the sales that has been missing.

"People weren't breeding [to him] to sell them as yearlings," he said. "People that go to a yearling sale want horses that can win a Grade 1 race. Until his babies win a Grade 1, that's not going to happen."

Auerbach said Unusual Heat will be limited to 90 mares, a large number for a California stallion, but less than a book for a major stallion in Kentucky. She has been active in the management of the stallion since her husband's death in 2000.

"This is the first year we had to talk a little about which of our mares we would breed to Unusual Heat," Auerbach said. "We didn't want to run the risk of overbreeding the horse."

Aside from the stakes winners, Unusual Heat has sired six other winners of $100,000 or more - Calista's Star, Frankie Eyelashes, God's Ear, Heat of the Moment, The Parties Over, and Thermal Ablasion. All were sired when the stallion stood with no cost.

"I can't explain it," Auerbach said. "They're always the same. It's exciting to know that wherever they ran, win or lose, they'll give it all they've got."