11/09/2001 12:00AM

Champions both costly and not

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LEXINGTON, Ky. ? Had he been in town for the sales, Shakespeare could have written about a tide in the affairs of mares, that if taken at its height, leads on to success in the sales ring. Three champions who sold at this week's Keeneland November breeding stock sale illustrate the tidal effects of success on a horse's valuation in the market.

Riding the wave to full effect was champion Phone Chatter, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at the track and already the dam of graded stakes winner Cat Chat (by Storm Cat). An impressive 10-year-old chestnut, Phone Chatter is a big, good-looking mare with a commanding presence.

A mare of her size, athleticism, and great poise is hard to miss, and none of her qualities was overlooked by Coolmore's John Magnier. Phone Chatter is his kind of mare: a top racer, a proven producer at a high level, and a very good match for Storm Cat. He purchased her for $3.6 million, a November sale price second this year only to the $4 million that Brushwood paid for Twenty Eight Carat, the dam of A P Valentine, who has been retired to stud at Coolmore's American operation, Ashford.

Among the top racemares who are yet unproven as producers was Canadian champion Saiorse, a 5-year-old daughter of Cure the Blues and Canadian champion Apelia. In foal to Seeking the Gold, Saiorse brought a final bid of $2.2 million from Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud.

The farm also purchased Grade 1 winner Dreams Gallore for $1.6 million as a broodmare prospect. Both mares will remain in Kentucky, and Live Oak's general manager, Bertram Mickel, said that "both mares will go a long way toward helping Live Oak Stud achieve its long-term goals. We've bought mares in each of the last four years, and each is a step in the right direction."

Live Oak, one of central Florida's leading operations for many years, is working to expand its successes, and top racemares like Saiorse and Dreams Gallore are a significant part of their overall program. Of the pair, Mickel said, "They really stand out. They have quality and are beautiful movers, with good size and conformation."

The November sale has been marked for the number of high-quality racemares who have sold well, as buyers put a premium on athletic ability. "We're really excited," Mickel said, and in light of what they have accomplished on the racetrack, "they are bargain mares, really."

Buyers caught these mares and also Volvoreta, Jostle, and Golden Ballet on the rising tide, with all their entire producing careers ahead of them. And overall, the statistics show that the best athletes make the best producers.

Inevitably, however, some are not favored by the ebb and flow of fate, and the market, particularly this highly selective market, penalizes them. One such champion is Life's Magic.

A champion at 3 and 4 whose named stirred the imagination of breeders and racing fans across the country, she went through the ring in 1986 for $5.4 million and then again in 1987 for $4.4 million. Although two of her first three foals were stakes-placed, the later foals of Life's Magic did nothing to improve her value, and when she sold again in 1997, she brought only $310,000 in foal to Unbridled.

When Life's Magic went through the Keeneland ring again on Wednesday, she sold for $75,000 to Trackside Farm, agent. The happy buyers include Arthur Seelbinder, who bred and raced Gastronomical, as well as other good stakes horses.

Seelbinder said, "One of the greatest things in this sport is the opportunity to have great racehorses as broodmares. This mare was magnificent on the track. There weren't many better than Life's Magic. It was a delight to watch her run, and the opportunity to own such a fabulous horse, even at her age, is a great incentive to be involved in racing and breeding."

A big, bay daughter of Cox's Ridge, Life's Magic was one of the sturdiest champions of the mid-1980's, when she won five Grade 1 stakes and ran second or third in 16 more against the best colts and fillies of the time. Seelbinder said that he and his partners in the mare were "able to buy her at a level we felt was realistic and that the first thing is to get through this foaling and hope to get a nice individual. Then, we'll think about who we'll breed back to and do the right thing by her."

The partners' concern for the mare's condition is partly in recognition of her age, 20, although she looks healthy and strong, and partly their enthusiasm to have such a champion in their broodmare band. Seelbinder said that "her foals haven't been that successful, but to get one or two foals would be very exciting, and you'd like to think that a foal out of Life's Magic could duplicate some of her ability."

With Life's Magic in foal to Thunder Gulch and due in mid-February, Seelbinder and partners will have time in the coming months to consider which stallions would fit the mare best and fully evaluate their options after foaling next year. Seelbinder said, "If more people excited about racing could breed horses, they'd see what it's all about. It's amazing."