03/15/2006 12:00AM

Buyback turns into top seller

Bringing $1.5 million from WinStar Farm, a Distorted Humor colt was the highest-priced horse at the Barretts 2-year-old sale on Tuesday.

POMONA, Calif. - Lance Robinson was not satisfied with the bidding on a Distorted Humor yearling colt that he was selling last September at Keeneland, so he and his partners in Gulf Coast Farm opted to buy the colt back. That decision now looks like a million bucks.

On Tuesday night at the Barretts sale of select 2-year-olds in training, the colt - currently saddled with the name Cowtown Cat - was purchased by WinStar Farm for $1.5 million, more than 10 times the $135,000 high bid he attracted just six months ago.

"We weren't getting the right kind of interest at the yearling sale, so we bought him back," said Robinson, who sold Cowtown Cat through agent Jerry Bailey. "We were thinking we needed a couple hundred thousand then. Distorted Humor's stud fee was just $20,000 when we bred him, and since then Distorted Humor has gone through the roof. We own a share in him, too."

Distorted Humor is the sire of Funny Cide, who was bred by WinStar and captured the 2003 Kentucky Derby the year Cowtown Cat - the first foal out of the Storm Cat mare Tom's Cat - was conceived. Last year, Distorted Humor was represented by Flower Alley, who won the Travers Stakes and finished second in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I thought he looked a lot like Flower Alley. I hope he's that good," said Mark Marionde, who signed the ticket on behalf of WinStar owners Bill Casner and Kenny Trout. Neither Casner nor Trout was at the sale. Marionde was working with WinStar's Doug Cauthen.

"We support our stallions, but I thought this was the best 2-year-old in the sale this year," Marionde said. "He stood like a statue. He trained well all week. He has a lot of substance, and a lot of presence. It didn't matter who he was by. I thought he was the best horse on the racetrack."

Cowtown Cat worked an eighth of a mile in 10.20 seconds during the first of two preview sessions on March 5.

Marionde said Cowtown Cat would be sent to Highpointe training center near Louisville, Ky., for his near-term training. After that, he said, Elliott Walden, WinStar's racing manager, would decide who would train the chestnut-colored colt.

Todd Pletcher, who trains Flower Alley, "is a likely candidate," Marionde said, "but it's not my decision to make." Pletcher trains Bluegrass Cat for WinStar.

Cowtown Cat was one of two horses who brought prices of more than $1 million at Barretts. The other was a colt by Exploit who was purchased by Ahmed Zayat's Zayat Stables for $1.2 million. That colt worked a quarter-mile in 21.20 seconds during a preview session.

Bob Baffert, who trained Exploit, advised Zayat and will train this colt, who is out of the Carson City mare Carson Jen. He is the mare's first foal.

"His sire was a real runner, and he's a better-looking horse," Baffert said. "He worked really well. I loved the way he moved, the way he's made."

The Exploit colt was sold by agent Murray Smith, who bought the colt for $100,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. auction in August. Smith sold the highest-priced horse at last year's sale, What a Song, to Baffert, who bought that colt for $1.9 million for owner Bob Lewis.

"When I bought this colt, I told Bob I had bought the spitting image of What a Song," Smith said. "All year long he's been a good horse, and he trained brilliantly."

Jimmy Bell of Darley Stable was the underbidder on the two highest-priced sellers, going to $1.4 million on Cowtown Cat. Bloodstock agent Buzz Chace went to $1 million on Cowtown Cat before dropping out.

Chace, who buys all over the country, thought the sale "had some nice runners, but the sire power is not there compared to last year. And I had a lot of horses turned down by the vet."

Trainer Ron Ellis, who bought three colts for Gary and Wendy Broad for a total of $725,000, thought he found good value.

"I think it's a buyer's market," Ellis said. "I'm really happy. I went to the sale at Calder in Florida, but I didn't buy anything because the prices were so high. Here you could buy a horse who's got a chance to be a good racehorse for a lot less."

Overall, 93 horses sold for a total of $14,361,000, an average of $154,419, down 5.4 percent from last year's average of $163,188. The buyback rate (46 of 139, 33 percent) was better than last year's (57 of 145, 39 percent). A total of 41 horses were withdrawn.

The sale did not have the firepower of Lewis, who died last month, nor Demi O'Byrne and Michael Tabor, who attended but were not listed as buyers of any horses. WinStar and Zayat filled the void.

"The quality and the depth of the buying base was very strong," said Jerry McMahon, the president and general manager of Barretts. "The consignors who brought the best product generally did well.

"We lost our leading buyer from last year. Bob Lewis was about 30 percent of last year's sale. Frankly, he saved us last year, and without him, we might not have had the depth we had this year."

In addition to What a Song, last year's sale produced Brother Derek, Henny Hughes, and Wild Fit.

"Those runners are mostly responsible for the number of buyers we had here," McMahon said.