07/17/2001 11:00PM

Buyers willing to overspend on a yearling with hype


LEXINGTON, Ky. - As a handicapper, are you a good judge of horseflesh? Do you feel you can closely estimate the value of a young horse?

Put that skill to the test. Try your hand at this one.

A yearling by Unbridled's Song is sold at Keeneland during its select yearling sale Tuesday night. A good-looking, correct colt - he possesses the physical attributes of a promising runner.

There are some holes in his pedigree, however. Although his second dam fills nearly the entire catalog page with black type, the unraced first dam has been largely unproductive.

Her first foal (by Two Punch), never raced. The second foal, Noah (by Smarten), won his maiden for a tag and failed to win a nickel claimer.

The third foal, Beau Promise (by Beau Genius), won only one race, a $5,000 maiden claimer at Beulah Park, by a head.

Yet with her fourth foal, Leah's Promise (by Fit To Fight), the dam produced a good runner. She recently won a maiden special weight by over three lengths at Delaware Park in her fourth start.

So what is this yearling colt worth? Keep in mind that none of his siblings sold for more than $21,000 as a yearling. What's your guess? $50,000? $100,000?

What if you were told this was one of the most attractive yearlings of the sale? And that the dam sold for $125,000 carrying this horse in foal a year and a half ago. Then what? Is he worth $150,000? What about $200,000?

In light of the dam's produce record, even those numbers seem ambitious. But believe it or not, bids of $150,000 and $200,000 wouldn't have gotten you noticed at Keeneland on Tuesday night.

This colt, Hip No. 94, sold for $1.9 million.

So much for a down market. For an attractive prospect people still have money to spend - and plenty of it.

Amazingly, this $1.9 million horse was only the 10th most expensivehorse in the sale. It will be interesting to see how this colt, as well as the other expensive purchases, perform when they begin racing a year from now.

They tend to be overbet throughout their racing careers, due to the high expectations caused by their bloodlines and purchase prices. However, these expensive yearlings are exciting to watch, if only to see how they turn out as investments. Some will strike out. Others like Fusaichi Pegasus, will hit it out of the park.

A year or two from now the verdict will be in on Hip No. 94, and others just like him.

Food for thought

As lucrative as auctions can be, why not expand them to incorporate more racing prospects?

This would appeal to a different type of investor - one who prefers to buy horses based on performance rather than expectations.

Keeneland, or another sales company, could offer an auction for talented racing prospects. Maybe work it like this - any horse who competes at Keeneland in the fall is eligible to be sold at an auction at the end of the October meet.

If someone doesn't want to sell their horse, they can withdraw. Or they send their horse through the sale, and reap the financial rewards.

Assuming the logistics could be worked out, such a sale would make financial sense. Each year, millions of dollars are offered privately to owners with promising horses.

By offering a racing prospect sale, Keeneland would give these owners the opportunity to sell their horse at market value and also provide an opportunity for a new buyer to acquire an established runner.

Owners more accustomed to analyzing speed figures than catalog pages would be more intrigued by such a sale. That is a growing group, by the way. Many owners and trainers now rely heavily on Beyer Speed Figures, Ragozin Sheets, and Thoro-Graph numbers when buying horses.

A sales company also might find owners who had previously only claimed horses expanding to incorporate richer racing stock.

Keeneland currently sells racing prospects during its November and January sale, but during that time period, the focus is primarily on broodmares.

If a sale were held in late October, the performances from the Keeneland meet would be fresh on buyers' minds. All the parties would be in a better position to capitalize.