07/14/2002 11:00PM

Fasig-Tipton courts middle market

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's July select yearling sale, which was to be held Monday and Tuesday nights this week, traditionally gets the auction limelight with its million-dollar Thoroughbreds. But across town on Wednesday and Thursday, Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's selected yearling sale has quietly been on the rise for buyers and sellers of middle-class racehorses. The question this year is whether Fasig-Tipton's record catalog of nearly 600 horses can sustain the upward momentum in a month when corporate scandals and stock market slips may prompt mid-market buyers to spend less.

In the past decade, the average price at Fasig-Tipton has climbed from the low-$30,000 range to last year's $97,671. Company officials attribute the rise largely to Fasig-Tipton's primary focus on offering correct, athletic horses for owners who do not require the kind of regal pedigrees available at Keeneland's vastly more expensive auction. The strategy has paid off, Boyd Browning, Jr., Fasig-Tipton's chief operating officer, said the increase in catalog size actually reflects that.

"Our goal when we started our selection process was to maintain the sale's level of quality or improve on it," Browning said. "There was no stated objective to increase the numbers. But we were exposed to more top-quality yearlings that fit this sale, and we also received about 20 percent more yearlings for the sale than before."

Recent Fasig-Tipton graduates like Grade 1 winners Take Charge Lady and Harlan's Holiday have boosted this auction's profile. Buyers like Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's representative John Ferguson and Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne no longer bypass the sale. Ferguson and O'Byrne were among lookers at the Newtown Paddocks facility last weekend, as were Bob Baffert's advisors J.B. and Kevin McKathan and regular high-level buying agent Buzz Chace. That gives Browning plenty of confidence about the top of his sale's market, but recent economic news has everyone watching the horses in the $50,000 to $150,000 range closely.

"The economic news hasn't been the greatest in the last couple of weeks, and the stock market has everybody a little jittery," Browning said. "Sheikh Mohammed probably doesn't care where the Dow is, but it can affect the middle-market. No one is really sure what the tone of this year's sale season will be, but we are cautiously optimistic. We have had a crowd of very active lookers."

The auction contains a wide range of stock and has continued its tradition of highlighting first- and second-crop sires in a 260-lot "new sire showcase." The company's rigorous focus on racy conformation does not mean there are not valuable pedigrees on offer. Space does not permit a full accounting, but a few of the most notable pedigrees include

* Hip No. 21, an Exploit filly out of Desert Run, dam of Grade 2 winner Sir Cat;

* Hip No. 27, a Charismatic half-brother to graded performers Elite Jeblar and Elite Mercedes;

* Hip No. 35, a Silver Charm half-brother to Grade 1-placed Lady Affirmed;

* Hip No. 53, a Souvenir Copy half-brother to Grade 2 winner Wandering;

* Hip No. 116, multiple stakes-winner Nancy's Glitter's first foal, a Forestry colt;

* Hip No. 139, a Good and Tough half-brother to Grade 3 winner Precise End;

* Hip No. 141, a Mazel Trick half-sister to Grade 2 winner Salty Perfume and German champion Green Perfume;

* Hip No. 161, a Tale of the Cat half-brother to Grade 3 winner French Satin;

* Hip No. 162, a Charismatic half-sister to Grade 3 winner Midway Magistrate;

* Hip No. 279, a Pentelicus half-sister to Grade 2 winner Smok'n Frolic;

* Hip No. 295, a Citidancer half-brother to Grade 1 winner Diazo;

* Hip No. 414, a Smoke Glacken half-brother to multiple stakes-winner Case of the Blues;

* Hip No. 453, a full sister to Grade 1 winner Stormy Pick;

* Hip No. 492, a Boston Harbor half-sister to multiple stakes-winner and $725,696 earner Max's Pal;

* Hip No. 498, a Crafty Prospector half-brother to multiple graded stakes-winner and $801,545 earner Euchre;

* Hip No. 504, a Miswaki half-sister to millionaire License Fee;

* Hip No. 513, a Valid Wager half-brother to Grade 1 winner Delaware Township;

* Hip No. 589, a Saint Ballado colt out of Grade 2 winner Avie's Fancy; and countless others too numerous to list here.

The auction begins each day at 10 a.m. in Lexington.