08/18/2004 11:00PM

Wolfs seek rare Alabama-Travers double


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Last Saturday, Jack and Laurie Wolf were on pins and needles. From Saratoga, they watched Hurricane Charley bear down on the West Coast of Florida and toward their Sarasota home. Fortunately for them, the storm took a right-hand turn and never reached their town.

For the next two Saturdays, the Wolfs will be anxious for entirely different reasons. The Wolfs, who race under the name Starlight Stable, as well as their partners Paul Saylor and Johns Martin, will attempt the rare feat of winning both the Alabama and Travers Stakes at the same Saratoga meet. This Saturday, Ashado will attempt to sew up the 3-year-old filly championship with a victory in the $750,000 Alabama.

On Aug. 28, Purge will try to duplicate his dominant Jim Dandy score in the $1 million Travers for 3-year-olds. Eight times since 1883 has the same owner won the Alabama and Travers at one meet, the last being Bert and Diana Firestone, who in 1976 won the Alabama with Optimistic Gal and the Travers with Honest Pleasure.

Jack and Laurie Wolf have enjoyed tremendous success in a relatively short period of time in horse racing. A native of Louisville, Jack Wolf worked as an investment advisor based in Atlanta, Ga. He began his foray into Thoroughbred ownership in 2000. He retained Barry Berkelhammer to be his racing manager, and at the first yearling sales they attended, they purchased Harlan's Holiday for $97,000.

Harlan's Holiday, who won the Florida Derby, Blue Grass, Pennsylvania Derby and Donn Handicap, retired with $3.6 million in earnings.

"When the markets were not treating me too well, I decided to put some money into these horses," Wolf said. "We were lucky to get Harlan's Holiday, and he supported the rest of it."

Wolf said he liked the idea of taking on partners to share the risk and expense, so when his friend Paul Saylor expressed an interest in buying horses, Wolf agreed. Johns Martin, a friend of Saylor's, also wanted in. They bought only three horses together.

In 2000, Wolf said, his budget was around $100,000 per yearling. Now, Wolf said, that number has doubled. In the case of Prime, an unraced 2-year-old Forest Wildcat colt and a half-brother to the Grade 2 winner Soto, that budget swelled to $675,000. Wolf owns that colt in partnership with David Moore and James Scatuorchio, who like Wolf have horses with trainer Todd Pletcher.

"He's surrounded himself with a lot of the right people," Pletcher said of Wolf. "Barry Berkelhammer has done a phenomenal job selecting horses. For the amount of money they spent to get Ashado, Purge, and Harlan's Holiday and the success they've had is remarkable. Barry deserves a tremendous amount of the credit for the whole program."

"We've had a lot of luck, but we've had a lot failures too," Wolf said, standing outside Purge's stall in Pletcher's barn. "You don't go out and just buy a horse. We buy 10 to 15 yearlings a year. We do have a system down in that we've got consistency in who's buying the horses, and who's breaking the horses. We normally use the same consignors, and [Pletcher] is a big reason for the success, too."

Wolf, who began using Pletcher in the spring of 2002, was impressed with the job he and his staff did getting the rambunctious Purge to settle down while schooling him every day for the week leading up to the Jim Dandy.

"It was unbelievable to see how he progressed each day," Wolf said. "The first day we followed him over there I was scared to death he was going to kick the [heck] out of me."

Purge, a $180,000 purchase, had the misfortune of running into Smarty Jones while still playing catch-up in the 3-year-old division. He sandwiched brilliant wins in the Peter Pan and Jim Dandy around a non-effort in the Belmont Stakes when he acted up in the paddock. He figures to be among the choices in the Travers.

Ashado, a $170,000 purchase, won the Schuylerville and Spinaway here last summer and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Ashado has gotten better at 3, winning the Fair Grounds Oaks, Kentucky Oaks, and Coaching Club American Oaks. She will be favored to win the Alabama.

"And the plan is to run her at 4," Wolf said. "The other two guys and I sat down and decided as long as she's sound and moving forward we want to continue to race her."