01/10/2002 12:00AM

Desert Stormer the star of January show

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - At this week's Keeneland January mixed sale, most of the fireworks were centered on one mare in the Taylor Made consignment, Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Desert Stormer. A 12-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, she had all the ingredients to interest major breeders and buyers. She was a top-class winner on the track; she is by the most popular commercial stallion in the world; and she has produced a graded stakes winner, Sahara Gold, as her first offspring.

If there was any icing needed on this cake, Desert Stormer stood out as the most exciting horse in the sale, and she has the presence and looks that make her a star. The opportunity to buy her created an intense bidding battle among some of the world's most prominent owners. Starting with an opening bid of $500,000, the price quickly rose past $1 million, then $2 million, and somewhat more slowly, the bidding passed $3 million. At $3.6 million, the mare sold to Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud, with the well-known bloodstock consultant Michael Youngs signing the ticket on behalf of the farm.

Desert Stormer is yet another top-quality mare that Live Oak has acquired in the past few months. At the Keeneland November sale, the farm purchased a pair of top racemares, the Canadian champion Saiorse and Grade 1 winner Dreams Gallore. Saiorse, a now 6-year-old daughter of Cure the Blues and Canadian champion Apelia, cost $2.2 million, and Dreams Gallore, a now 6-year-old mare by Silver Ghost out of the Fit to Fight mare Fitnah, sold for $1.6 million.

Like Desert Stormer, both of those mares have remained in Kentucky for breeding, and they are part of a long-range commitment to quality and racing performance in Live Oak's program of breeding. Live Oak, which has been one of central Florida's leading operations for many years, also has raced several nationally important stakes winners, including Group 1 winners Sultry Song and Solar Splendor.

After her sale, Desert Stormer was vanned to the Hancock family's famed Claiborne Farm outside Paris, Ky. Claiborne has a long-standing reputation as a home of practical, conservative horsemanship, and Claiborne's Gus Koch noted that "We are thrilled to have her. She's a splendid mare."

Over the decades, Claiborne has been a home for some of the sport's most celebrated sires and broodmares, including Bold Ruler, Nasrullah, Mr. Prospector, Danzig, Grey Flight, Rough Shod, and Personal Ensign. Desert Stormer, who sold in foal to Kris S. on a May 4 cover, will be bred to Seeking the Gold, a successful son of Mr. Prospector who stands at Claiborne. Such a mating would produce a full sibling to Sahara Gold, the mare's Grade 2 stakes winner who won the Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland. The mare's 4-year-old, Blades Hill, is also by Seeking the Gold, and the colt has won two of his three starts to date.

Desert Stormer does not have a 3-year-old. Her juvenile is a daughter of Mr. Prospector, and she has a yearling by Seeking the Gold. Joanne Nor bred and raced Desert Stormer, and she consigned the mare to auction through Taylor Made in the name of her farm, Norfields. Noting that financial pressures from divorce proceedings had made the mare's sale necessary, Nor said, "I still own the Mr. Prospector filly and a half-interest in the yearling. So I still have some connection to Desert Stormer."

As part of training Desert Stormer, Nor recalled that "Desert Stormer was like a lot of Storm Cats. They have the body and talent at 2, but if you want to have a racehorse in the long term, don't rush them. Let them do it as it comes naturally. With Desert Stormer, I took my time, but even then she had so much fire that you really had to finesse her."

At 2, Desert Stormer was unraced, and she ran only three times at 3, winning two and running second in the Grade 3 La Brea. The mare really bloomed at 4 and 5, and her son Blades Hill may follow a similar path of development.

As her handling of Desert Stormer suggests, Nor is a breeder who walks to a different drummer, not worrying about placing the horse for maximum income but putting the horse's needs first. This long-term approach has certainly paid dividends with the success of Desert Stormer and her family.

A mare who resembles her sire very closely, Desert Stormer also has profited from Nor's guardianship. Nor said, "She wouldn't have been the racehorse she was if I hadn't taken the time with her. She's so feisty and so strong, but she is very responsive to love."