10/21/2009 11:00PM

Walters family proving it sure can pick 'em


LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Chris Walters was 7 years old and growing up on the family farm just south of Indianapolis, he and his family would drive to Lexington to visit Claiborne Farm and some of the other iconic venues of the Thoroughbred business.

"We would go see Secretariat," said Walters, who turns 30 next week. "Ever since those days, I've been very, very serious about racing."

That devotion to the sport has paid off in uncanny fashion for Walters and his dad, Tom Walters, the owner of a long-term care insurance agency. Through only a handful of Thoroughbred purchases, the Walters family has already known considerable success: Elite Squadron earned more than $500,000 as a high-class sprinter, and Pretty Prolific became Grade 1-placed when finishing second in the Test Stakes at Saratoga this summer.

Saturday at Keeneland, the Walters stable will try to extend its remarkable run of good fortune when Pretty Prolific goes off as one of the contenders in a wide-open running of the Grade 2, $300,000 Raven Run Stakes.

"We've only bought maybe six horses since we decided a few years ago to get into the racing business," said Tom Walters, 61.

Besides Elite Squadron, a 5-year-old horse who just stood his first season at stud at the Wintergreen Stallion Station, and Pretty Prolific, the family owns a 2-year-old Silver Deputy colt named Sensational Style and a yearling colt by Giant's Causeway.

"The scary thing is we think the 2-year-old could be the best horse we've ever had," said Tom Walters.

Jimmy Baker, a lifelong racetracker whose late father, George Baker, was one of the first trainers for the Kinsman Stable of the Steinbrenner family, trains the Walters horses at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

"They're very enthusiastic, knowledgeable people," said Baker, 51. "I've been amazed at the success they've had with the very few horses they've bought."

Both Elite Squadron, by Officer, and Pretty Prolific, by Lion Heart, were bought as weanlings. Both were by first-year sires.

"Chris spent an exorbitant amount of time looking at babies before we made the decision to buy them," said Tom Walters.

Tom Walters, married for 37 years to his wife, Julie, said he represents the fourth generation of his family to live on the Franklin, Ind., farm, where his dad bought and sold horses and cattle for his primary living.

"Growing up, we had Quarters and Paints," he said. "Later on, we got into showing horses, but at some point I got tired of putting all that time and money into them and only having a ribbon or trophy to show for it."

So after Chris graduated from Indiana State University in 2002, Tom agreed to give Thoroughbred racing a try, with Chris advising him on bloodstock acquisitions.

"Chris has a tremendous eye for horses, which I believe he inherited from my dad," said Tom Walters. "He also has a great understanding of pedigrees. Of course, you have to be very lucky in this game, and we all feel blessed to have done as well as we have. But I think Chris deserves a lot of credit for what he's put into it."

Pretty Prolific began her career by winning in maiden special weight company at Churchill on June 22, 2008. Hardly a well-kept secret, she won that five-furlong race as the 3-2 favorite. In her second start, she was third in the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga, then finished her

2-year-old season with three more races, concluding with a runner-up finish in a Churchill allowance in November. It was six months before she made her 3-year-old debut, winning a May 30 allowance at Churchill.

"We all knew she was a very precocious horse," said Chris Walters. "The layoff, we just needed to give her time. Jimmy is exceptional in that respect."

Baker has 20 horses in his care, a typical number for him. Chris Walters said the hands-on, understated, conscientious manner in which Baker conducts his business has been "a monumental piece to the equation."

"We generally only have the one horse at a time," he said. "We don't have 5, 10, 15 horses, where if one falls by the wayside you can fill the spot. But when this filly gave us signs she needed a break, that's what she got.

"Our expectations are rather lofty, and we've been very fortunate, to say the least. Jim is as patient and knowledgeable a horseman as you'll find. He comes from the right school for us. With both Elite Squadron and Pretty Prolific, he's done just what the protocol has called for. It's a relationship that, when we call him, we get him - not his assistant or his assistant's assistant."

Baker, who lives in Louisville with his wife, Candie, said he has been pleased with the way Pretty Prolific has matured and developed a closing kick. After her comeback win in May, she was second in the July 18 Dearly Precious at Monmouth Park, second in the Aug. 8 Test, and then fifth in an overnight Saratoga stakes when trying the turf for the first time.

For the Raven Run, Pretty Prolific will wear half-cup blinkers for the first time. Baker shipped her to Keeneland to work her in the blinkers and over the Polytrack surface Oct. 6, and she responded with a bullet five-furlong drill (from 25 workers) in 59 seconds.

"We all felt like she's been giving herself a little too much to do and maybe not focusing as much as she can," said Chris Walters. "Hopefully, the blinkers will keep her a little closer to the pace Saturday."

For Baker, who has worked full-time with racehorses since graduating from high school in 1975, running a contender in a race like the Raven Run never gets old.

"I get pretty pumped up," he said. "It's what makes all the time you put in worthwhile."