06/25/2002 12:00AM

Winning early and often


LAS VEGAS. - Swiss Yodeler raced from age 2 to 5, but was at his best as a juvenile, winning six of nine races. His victories included the Hollywood Futurity, Hollywood Juvenile Championship, Best Pal, Haggin, and Westchester Stakes, and he finished third in both the Del Mar Futurity and Norfolk Stakes. One of this year's freshman sires, Swiss Yodeler has a first crop of runners who have come out firing in a huge way, and he leads all first-crop sires with seven winners. He also has one stakes winner and three stakes-placed runners.

It's not surprising that Swiss Yodeler's 2-year-olds are winning early, but it is surprising that this California-based stallion is the national leader over other, more highly regarded freshman sires. What is particularly striking about Swiss Yodeler's rapid ascent is that he is accomplishing this with an undistinguished book of mares. Whether they have shown up in maiden special weight, maiden claiming, or stakes races, sons and daughters of Swiss Yodeler are performing beyond expectations.

His best runner thus far is Oberwald, who followed in his sire's footsteps by capturing Hollywood Park's Haggin Stakes. Two of Swiss Yodeler's daughters, Little Bit a Swiss and My Honey Bunny, finished second and third in the Cinderella Stakes, also at Hollywood. Another daughter, Solo Singer, finished second in the Time to Leave Stakes at Bay Meadows.

Swiss Yodeler is a son of Eastern Echo, who was among the best horses bred by Paul Mellon. Like so many runners with uncommon ability, however, Eastern Echo was injured at 2, and never got the opportunity to fulfill the potential he showed in winning all three of his starts, including the Grade 1 Futurity Stakes. Fly So Free won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was named 2-year-old champion in 1990, but anyone who witnessed Eastern Echo's races could make a case that he would have been a formidable foe for Fly So Free.

It seemed a cruel fate that Mellon lost two of his most exciting prospects in back-to-back years, when Red Ransom in 1989 and then Eastern Echo were not allowed to develop into stars. Of course, the racing gods corrected this by giving Mellon his only Kentucky Derby winner, in 1993 with Sea Hero.

Eastern Echo had the pedigree and performance to be a top stallion, and while he has fallen short of that mark, he has been a solid if not flashy sire. His best runners have been Swiss Yodeler and Western Echo, who was also a multiple stakes winner at 2.

A grandson of Damascus

Swiss Yodeler's grandsire, Damascus, was one of racing's great racehorses. His epic clashes against Dr. Fager rank among the sport's great rivalries, and his overpowering performances at 3 assured his entry into the Hall of Fame. While Dr. Fager did not contest the Triple Crown, Damascus finished third in the Kentucky Derby behind 30-1 Proud Clarion and 15-1 Barb's Delight, and won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. His miscue in the Derby was a result of the high-strung colt not having his pony by his side in the post parade, as he had in all of his previous races. His victories at 3 included the Bay Shore, Wood Memorial, Dwyer, American Derby, Travers (a 22-length score over a sloppy track that equaled Saratoga's record for 1 1/4 miles, 2:01.60), Aqueduct, and Woodward Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. In one of the most anticipated showdowns of all time, Damascus defeated a less than 100-percent healthy Buckpasser by 10 lengths, with Dr. Fager another half-length back in third in the 1967 Woodward Stakes.

Quality female line

Swiss Yodeler has a solid stakes-producing female family to complement his sire line. His stakes-winning dam, Drapeau, inherited speed from her sire, Raja Baba (Bold Ruler), and is a full sister to stakes winning sprinters Royal Pennant and Royal Plume.

His second dam, French Flag, is by Hoist the Flag out of stakes winner Marchandeuse, a half-sister to stakes winners Circus and Maid of France. Other notable stakes winners from this family include La Vue, Nine Keys, Clef d'Argent, and Midway Lady, champion 3-year-old filly in England.

Because of his blazing start at stud, Swiss Yodeler is sure to attract better-quality mares in the years to come. Having seven winners before July is impressive, and with 45 listed 2-year-olds, Swiss Yodeler should have many more winners in the next few months.