02/06/2004 12:00AM

Anatomy of a $1.6 million sales shocker

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There was some ambivalence going into the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's sale of 2-year-olds in training Tuesday. Mike Gill, last year's leading buyer with 32 purchases for $2.9 million, had served notice that because of a brouhaha with the management of Calder Race Course he would not attend Tuesday's sale, nor the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old auctions to be held at Calder later this month.

There also was some question as to whether there were sufficient "buzz" horses to perk up bidding. Dogwood Stable's Cot Campbell said before the sale: "I think this is going to be a good sale, strong through the middle, but I don't think you have the kind of special horses who will drive prices beyond the half-million [dollar] mark."

Campbell was right - until almost the sale's end, when Hip No. 195 sold for a price beyond all expectations.

There had been two half-million-dollar buys earlier in the sale, but most of the upper bids were stuck in $300,000 to $500,000 range. Twelve lots ended up selling for $300,000 or more, and nine of them were colts.

The sale-topper - indeed, the record price for a 2-year-old sold at an OBS sale - was an unlikely candidate. Hip No. 195 had been sold by Thorostock, agent, at last August's OBS yearling auction in Ocala for $45,000. The buyer, W.D. North, is a low-key pin-hooker from Dade City, Fla.

"After he bought the colt, he asked us to look the horse over as a selected 2-year-old sales prospect," recalled Tom Ventura, general manager of the OBS. "I did as he asked, took one look at the horse, and told him the horse is in."

The unnamed bay colt, a May foal, is by the stallion Wild Rush. The colt's dam, Freudenau, by Meadowlake, is an unraced producer of one modest winner. There is no black type through the first two dams. What the colt does have is a charismatic presence and accompanying athleticism. North worked him only once for the sale, during the preview under-tack show on Jan. 26, when he went an effortless 10.40 seconds for a furlong. That was enough.

There was not the hush that usually accompanies a buzz horse when Hip No. 195 entered the sales ring. The bidding, however, took off much faster and with higher jumps than most observers anticipated. The bidding came from several directions, and it did not settle down into a duel until around the $1 million mark. John Ferguson, representing the Maktoum family, was on the phone, while John C. Oxley was handling his own bidding. When the bidding hit the $1.6 million mark, Oxley, showing his frustration, got up from his seat and headed for the exit. A half-hour earlier Oxley had won a bidding duel for Hip No. 181, a $270,000 filly from the first crop of Steven Got Even.

North shared the wealth from the sale-topper. His partners in the $45,000 investment in the colt as a yearling were Norman and Linda Adams, who are residents of Ocala.

Record average, median

The numbers at the sale were mostly good. The average of $136,304 for 112 sold - five fewer than last year - was up 25 percent from last year. The median of $87,500 was up 17 percent. Both numbers are all-time highs. Buy-backs were up from 29 percent to 33 percent.

Ferguson was the leading buyer at the sale. In addition to the sale-topper, he bought Hip No. 80, a colt by Abaginone, for $230,000, and Hip No. 170, a filly by Notebook, for $310,000. Other well-known buyers included Demi O'Byrne, who bought a pair of colts, Hip No. 138, by Horse Chestnut, and Hip No. 147, a colt by Siphon. Each cost a half-million. Todd Pletcher, representing Bob Lewis, bought three for a total of just under $1 million.

"I thought the sale would be reasonably strong for many reasons," said Ventura, "but I have to say management and staff are very pleased. And we got the numbers without last year's leading buyer."

Local boys do well

Florida first-crop stallions had a banner afternoon at the sale. Padua Stable's resident stallion Yes It's True had six go through the ring, and they averaged $125,833. Yes It's True stands for $10,000. Straight Man, who stands at Signature Thoroughbreds for $6,000, had five go through the ring, and they averaged $74,000.