01/23/2004 12:00AM

Year's best: New York Hero, the Benders


In 2003, Maryland had one of the nation's top-ranked sires, a deep group of 61 stakes winners, and a repeat performance by the state's leading breeders. The following is a list of the year's top Maryland performers:

Leading breeders: Sondra and Howard Bender

It was another successful year for Sondra and Howard Bender, who for the third consecutive time led the state by number of stakes winners. Of the six 2003 added-money winners bred by the Benders, five campaigned in their colors, winning a total of nine stakes. All the Bender horses are trained by Larry Murray, who also manages the couple's Glade Valley Farms Inc., in Frederick.

Much of the Benders' success last year can be attributed to their remarkable broodmare, Foufa. A daughter of Storm Bird, the 21-year-old Foufa is the dam of Foufa's Warrior, winner of the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup Stakes in course-record time at Delaware Park; Find Handicap winner Certantee; and Taking Risks Stakes winner Full Brush. The latter was the only Bender-bred stakes winner not to campaign for them. Foufa has produced a total of five stakes winners from 12 offspring since the Benders purchased her at auction in January 1989 when she was carrying her second foal.

The Benders were also represented by three-time stakes winner Tam's Terms and the two-time stakes winners Cruise Along and River Cruise.

Leading Maryland-bred money winner: New York Hero.

A son of Partner's Hero, New York Hero earned $465,860 from 14 starts at 3, topped by his gutsy score at Turfway Park in March in the Grade 2 Lane's End Stakes, worth $300,000 to the winner.

Leading Maryland sires: Not for Love and Polish Numbers.

Not for Love ranked 15th in the nation by progeny earnings in 2003 and was the highest-ranked stallion standing outside of Kentucky. A son of Mr. Prospector, Not for Love stands at Northview Stallion Station in Chesapeake City. He had 158 runners last year and they earned a total of $4,975,470. For the second year in a row, Not for Love was represented by at least 10 stakes winners. Not for Love's leading earner was the graded stakes-winning Pennsylvania-bred Presidentialaffair, who accounted for $188,140.

The late Polish Numbers, who stood at Northview until his death in November 2002, topped the 2-year-old sires list by earnings with $414,680. His top runners were three-time stakes winner Richetta, plus Polish Rifle and Dr. Kathy, both stakes winners who were also graded stakes-placed.

Leading Maryland-bred by number of stakes wins: Cherokee's Boy, Crossing Point, P Day, Richetta, Tam's Terms, and Willa on the Move, with three each.

The six runners covered the gamut of divisions and conditions. Richetta, 2-year-old filly; Cherokee's Boy, 3-year-old colt; Willa on the Move, older filly; Crossing Point, sprinter; Tam's Terms, turf horse; and P Day, at age 8, older distance runner. Crossing Point actually finished first in a fourth stakes race in 2003, but was disqualified from the purse money after taking the Paumonok Handicap at Aqueduct in January.

Number of graded stakes winners: 12.

While no Maryland-bred runner won a Grade 1 race, Shine Again came close, getting nosed out in her quest for a third consecutive Ballerina Handicap. Shine Again was one of four Maryland-bred Grade 2 winners, winning Belmont Park's Genuine Risk Handicap in May. Other winners in Grade 2 company were New York Hero, Dixie Stakes winner Dr. Brendler, and Perfect Moon, who won the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes as well as the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship.

Grade 3 winners were Finally Here (Duchess Stakes in Canada), For Rubies (Chicago Breeders' Cup Handicap), Foufa's Warrior, P Day (Baltimore Breeders' Cup Handicap), Private Chef (Will Rogers Stakes), and Willa on the Move (Honorable Miss Handicap).

In addition, Shamrock Isle and Tres Touche won Grade 3 races over hurdles in 2003.