02/04/2004 12:00AM

$1.6 million Wild Rush colt breaks OBS 2-year-old record

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Consignor W.D. "Willie" North hit one straight out of the park in the final minutes of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's select 2-year-old sale at Miami's Calder Race Course on Tuesday night, selling a $1.6 million colt that shattered the auction house's previous record for a 2-year-old and helped lift the sale across the board.

Hip No. 195, one of the last lots through the ring, was a Wild Rush colt out of the young, unraced Meadowlake mare Freudenau. North bought the colt for just $45,000 at last year's OBS August yearling sale in Ocala. On paper, there wasn't anything exceptional about the colt. Just one Freudenau foal has made it to the races, and that horse, a Lit de Justice filly named Shaved Ice, is a winner without black type.

But North's Wild Rush colt had put in a speedy eighth-mile work in 10.40 seconds, just a tick off the day's fastest time of 10.20, at the auction's final under-tack preview. When he stepped into the bidding ring, the colt sparked a bidding war. In the end, it was John Ferguson, representing Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, who outbid John Oxley and walked away with the horse at $1.6 million, the highest price paid for a 2-year-old at any OBS sale. The price beat the previous OBS 2-year-old record of $1.2 million, which Demi O'Byrne, agent, paid last year at this sale for Chapel Royal.

The one-day auction saw substantial increases in all categories, selling 112 juveniles for gross receipts of $15,266,000. That was up 20 percent from last year's total for 117 horses. Average price shot to a record of $136,304 in 2004, outstripping last year's $108,829 by 25 percent. And median soared 17 percent, rising from last year's $75,000 to $87,500. The only shadow that fell over the sale was in the buyback rate, which rose from 30 percent to 34 percent this year. A sale-record 20 lots brought $200,000 or more this year, up from 11 last year.

The gains occurred without the help of Michael Gill, who was a major buyer at this auction last year. Gill declined to attend the sale this year because of an ongoing dispute with Calder, which he said has denied him stalls.

The $1.6 million Wild Rush colt has boosted more than one bottom line since he first went through an auction ring at the 2002 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. He sold there as a weanling for a paltry $6,200 to a buyer listed as F. Pamengo FC. The next time he sold publicly, it was at the OBS August yearling sale, where the Thoroughstock agency got $45,000 from North.

"I saw this horse when he came to the yearling sale," said North, 30. "I saw him come off the van, and they took him to hose him off to get him ready to show. When I saw him walk around the shed row, I thought, 'I have got to have that horse.' Basically, I sort of camped out and watched him. I had to have him.

"Forty-five thousand was a lot for a Wild Rush at the time," he added. "But I was willing to pay whatever I could scrape up. This colt was a big, leggy, fast-bodied horse, as close to perfect as you could get."

Pinhooker Rick Leppala, who has worked with North before, helped him raise the money through a regular pinhooking investor, Norman Adams, a former banker who owns a construction business in Florida.

North may not have seen much limelight at Thoroughbred auctions, but he's no newcomer. He and Leppala partnered in pinhooking Delaware Township at the 1998 OBS Calder sale; North broke and trained the colt, a $24,000 yearling whom Leppala sold for $110,000 as a juvenile. North has had a few other good sales, but nothing to rival the $1.6 million Wild Rush colt.

North trains off the beaten path in Dade City, Fla., where he rents 80 acres, stalls, and a racetrack across the street from his own 20-acre farm. He has a small staff to help him, including his girlfriend, Michelle Redding, who also owns Grey Dawn Stables. A former Quarter Horse trainer, North appears to have found his niche.

"I quit training Quarter Horses in 1998 or 1999," he said. "I had a 33 percent win ratio, and I was still losing money, because I didn't have a stake horse."

Whether or not the Wild Rush colt ever wins a stakes, he's already a big horse for North and OBS.