10/14/2003 11:00PM

What will Bornwithit do for encore?

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the premier sales company in North America, Keeneland is expected to sell promising young horses with stakes potential. Of course, they are typically sold in the sales pavilion, not in the first race on a routine Friday in October.

Last Friday that is what happened when trainer Gary Montgomery claimed Bornwithit, a 2-year-old Charismatic gelding, for $30,000 off owner Live Oak Plantation and trainer Nick Zito.

Claims are nothing new, even at Keeneland, which focuses on high-end allowances and stakes races. Some claimed horses stagger across the finish line, much to the dismay of their new owners. Others run competitive races. And a smaller percentage win, sometimes big.

But claimed horses rarely win by more than 70 yards, as Bornwithit did when he romped in a maiden race for 2-year-olds by 24 1/2 lengths.

At least for one day, Bornwithit looked like he belonged in the Breeders' Futurity instead of a maiden $30,000 claimer. He sped to the lead, turned back a pair of challenges from one of his main opponents, and completed 1 1/16 miles under a hand ride in 1:44.08. He earned an 85 Beyer Speed Figure.

In the days that followed, I kept wondering how he could produce such a dominant performance on the heels of a dull debut. I also felt like kicking myself to leaving him out of my top three selections that day.

Why did Montgomery claim Bornwithit?

"I liked his breeding," said Montgomery, whose family owns the horse. "Dad and I looked at the Racing Form. We were looking for a colt or a gelding, and we both circled in on this horse."

They saw something in his debut, a 32-length loss at Saratoga, that few bettors and no owners willing to claim him noticed. They saw opportunity.

Even with their optimism, they were amazed by the performance. Horses rarely win by 24 1/2 lengths, much less at a track like Keeneland that is known for its competitive racing.

Soon after seeing the race, a few questions immediately popped up in my mind: How unusual is it for claimed horses to win like this? How successful are they in their subsequent races? And are these horses to bet in their races following the claim?

I didn't have the faintest clue. The computers at The Jockey Club did. A computer query determined that over the last five years only one horse had won by a larger margin than Bornwithit in a race from which it was claimed. That horse, Marran, won a $3,500 claiming race at Thistledown in December 2001 by 25 lengths.

Five others won by 20 lengths or more in the races from which they were claimed. That made a total of six. What was surprising was that only one of the six, a horse aptly named Knockout Blow, won its next race. He did so at Great Falls, in Montanta, of all places, in a $1,600 allowance race.

The accompanying chart lists the six winners, and their records following the claim. Four of these six horses have not yet won.

That is not to say the same is in store for Bornwithit. On the contrary, he looks reminiscent of Unreal Party, a horse owner Richard Englander took out of a maiden claiming race. That horse, who won by 22 1/4 lengths the day he was claimed, is now a stakes winner who has earned almost $310,000 for Englander.

Even he lost his first race following the claim. He finished fourth in the Old Hickory Stakes at Fair Grounds in 2000, regressing 15 Beyer Speed Figure points off the 94 Beyer he earned the day he was claimed.

My instinct tells me Bornwithit may similarly regress in his first race back. Down the road he has a bright future, regardless of how some of these cheaper winners have struggled. He faced some degree of pace pressure in his maiden win, and scored handily over a Keeneland track that played fairly that day. He may not be a star, but he certainly acts like a promising 2-year-old.

Regardless of what the future holds, Montgomery is enjoying the ride. A do-it-himself trainer with three or four horses in his stable, he took a moment to talk about Bornwithit as he walked him around his shed row at Churchill Downs Trackside on Tuesday morning.

He said his phone has been ringing with people interested in the horse, which should come as no surprise. Deep-pocketed owners and bloodstock agents regularly offer owners of impressive 2-year-old winners six-figure sums.

Kentucky rules state that a horse cannot be sold until 30 days have passed from the day following a claim. At least at this early juncture, Montgomery is planning on the horse being a part of his stable.

"I don't know where to go with him next," he said, laughing.

Claiming Big Winners

Horses that won by 20+ lengths the day they were claimed

NameClaim DateTrackLevelWin marginBeyerRecord SinceNotes
Bornwithit10/10/03KeeMd 30K24 1/285NAJoins Montgomery
Infantry12/21/01Sun5K n2l23 1/2887-0-1-4 $11,247Unraced since 5/12/02
Knockout Blow7/15/00GF2.5K n2l2060*9-1-0-0 $1,223Inactive since 9/29/01
Marran12/5/01Tdn3.5K n2y25659-0-0-0 $769Out since 9/9/02
Stormy La Reine7/27/02LrlMd 16K21 3/4468-0-1-1 $12,633Active, stakes placed at Del
Swift and Sultry4/24/03CT2.5K20755-0-0-0 $1,200Unraced since 7/31/03
Unreal Party10/10/00DelMd 40K22 1/49431-10-3-2 $308,627Active, stakes winner

*Does not include record at unrecognized fair tracks