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Ima Winner

Tough times don't last, but tough funds do. If you agree with the former, now is a good time to find the latter -- particularly among growth funds, where times are toughest.

There's this week's entrant to the Ima Winner Fund Club from the mid-cap growth pack, for instance, the (RPMGX) - Get Report T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth fund. And at the other end of the spectrum is the (DRLEX) Dreyfus Premier Aggressive Growth fund, which slinks into our Ima Loser Fund Club.

It was difficult to figure out which fund managers were doing a good job in 1999, when most growth funds loaded up on the surging shares of tech shops and rode them to a more-than-60% return, on average. Now that those can't-miss picks have cratered, the average mid-cap growth fund is down some 40% over the past 12 months. The funds that haven't had all their teeth knocked out have proved their mettle.

Our winner is one of them.

The T. Rowe Price Mid-Cap Growth fund proves that it pays to go your own way.

Unlike many of his peers, Brian Berghuis has refrained from buying fast-growing companies at any price since the

no-load fund launched in 1992. He still shops for companies with solid earnings growth, but balks at paying thin-air valuations, and spreads the fund's money broadly around the market. It might sound like a slow-lane approach, but it has paid off.

The fund has beaten its average peer in seven of its eight calendar years, and it beats the

S&P 500

and at least 60% of the mid-cap growth pack over the past one, three and five years, according to Chicago fund tracker Morningstar.

Over the past 12 months the fund has fallen just 13.9%, compared with a 40% dip for the category on average.

In addition to ringing up better gains than most, Berghuis has traded thoughtfully to limit taxable distributions. Over the past five years, the fund has been more tax-efficient than more than 90% of its peers.

Ima Winner

Source: Morningstar. Returns through Nov. 5.

Of course, there are a couple of caveats. Because Berghuis doesn't bet the farm on a hot sector, the fund won't lead the pack when tech or another corner of the market rockets north. In 1999, for example, the fund posted a 24% gain. That sounds great, but it actually trailed the category average by nearly 38 percentage points.

Also, the fund's success has caused its assets to balloon to $5.5 billion now, compared with $394 million for the average mid-cap growth fund. If the fund's assets keep growing, they might hamstring Berghuis' efforts.

Still, the fund's record makes it a solid choice for anyone looking for an all-weather approach to growth investing in the mid-cap pool.

Hi, Ima Loser

If bumbling were an art, the broker-sold Dreyfus Premier Aggressive Growth fund would be its Picasso.

Let's see, the fund trailed its average peer in each of the past seven years. In four of those years, it fared worse than

at least

98% of its competitors. In fact, the fund lags behind the S&P 500 and averages an annual loss over the past one, three, five and 10 years. The fund's 5.2% annualized loss over the past 10 years lags behind the S&P by some 18 percentage points, and 99% of the mid-cap growth funds out there fared better.

Loser!

Source: Morningstar. Returns through Nov. 5.

If those numbers are ugly, the story behind them is even uglier. For years, the fund, formerly called Dreyfus Premier Capital Growth, was an asset allocation or balanced portfolio, typically carrying big bond and cash stakes. That all changed when Michael Schonberg took the reins from 1995 to 1998. Schonberg stuffed this fund and his other Dreyfus charges with small-caps and initial public offerings.

Unfortunately, he gave some funds (not this one) more IPO shares to boost performance and bought stocks in his funds that he owned in his personal portfolio. As you might imagine, both are no-nos. He left under a cloud as regulators eventually

fined the firm and suspended Schonberg from managing money.

Maybe the nicest thing you can say about the sagging fund, launched in 1969, is that Kevin Sonnett took the reins only at the end of 1999, so most of the fund's profoundly lousy record isn't his fault. Then again, the fund lost 23% last year, worse than 83% of the category. On the bright side, the fund's 27.7% loss since Jan. 1 is about average.

But because the fund has been superlative only in its flair for failure, it doesn't deserve your time or money.

Ian McDonald writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to

imcdonald@thestreet.com, but he cannot give specific financial advice.