09/13/2004 11:00PM

Going under the radar to find top yearlings

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LAS VEGAS - Just as there are overlays in handicapping, there are also overlays at the sales. While the big players go after the obvious standouts every year, paying anywhere from $400,000 to $4 million for high-profile pedigrees, mid-range buyers have a smorgasbord of well-bred horses whose pedigrees fall under the radar.

Heritage of Gold is a prime example of a stakes winner purchased at a bargain-basement price.

Consigned to the Ocala sale of 2-year-olds in April 1997, Heritage of Gold was one of those nuggets. Because she was by an unraced and relatively unknown stallion (Gold Legend), combined with the fact that her first two dams had not produced anything of note, she was greatly overlooked. But the key to racing class is always found in the female family, and although it may skip a generation or two, it usually surfaces in subsequent generations. Also, while Gold Legend was unraced, he sported a pedigree of the highest class. By Seattle Slew, he is out of champion sprinter and producer Gold Beauty, making him a half-brother to Dayjur and Maplejinsky.

But all you needed to know about this filly was her third dam, Special Account. Special Account (Buckpasser-Intriguing, by Swaps) was one of a handful of full siblings bred by Ogden Phipps. Special Account was only a modest winner of $9,170, but she was a full sister to stakes winners Numbered Account, Cunning Trick, and How Curious. Numbered Account was a spectacular champion at 2, and produced Private Account, Dance Number, and Polish Numbers. Special Account, Playmate, The Cuddler, and Fascinating Trick were non-stakes-winning full sisters, but that did not prevent them from becoming good broodmares. Playmate is the dam of champion Woodman, The Cuddler produced stakes winner Verification, and stakes winner Redattore descends from Fascinating Trick.

Heritage of Gold was sold for a modest $30,000 and went on to win many stakes and more than $2 million.

Keeneland's first two sales catalogs, which conclude at Thursday's auction, feature well-regarded lots that are usually priced too high for mid-range buyers, but catalogs 3 and 4 are where bargains abound.

A group of 15 hip numbers caught my eye from book 3, scheduled for the sales ring on Saturday and Sunday, and may offer great value. My top three selections from this catalog are:

* Hip No. 1342: A filly by last year's leading freshman sire, Stravinsky, she is out of a Temperence Hill mare, Hillary Street. Based on the fact that Hillary Street and her dam, Glory Street, have not been noteworthy producers, this filly could be a sleeper. Once again, the attraction lies in her powerful female family. In fact, she gets more points for having the Rasmussen Factor (RF), as she is inbred 4x4 to the influential broodmare Native Street. Stravinsky's fourth dam is Native Street, and Hillary Street's fourth dam is also Native Street, magnifying the most important aspect of the pedigree.

* Hip No. 1466: A colt by Horse Chestnut out of the Seattle Slew mare Raise. This is a colt for buyers interested in a potential grass star. A superstar in South Africa, Horse Chestnut showed a glimpse of his immense talent winning his only U.S. start, the Broward Handicap. From the Sadler's Wells-Northern Dancer sire line, Horse Chestnut's offspring will ultimately prove best on turf (such as Lucifer's Stone, who won last Sunday's Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup Handicap), and the extraordinary quality from this colt's female family is unquestionable. Another RF (inbred 5x4 to the aptly named Special), this colt's stakes-winning third dam is a half-sister to Nureyev and Fairy Bridge, who also happens to be the dam of Sadler's Wells.

* Hip No. 1726: With the recent exploits of Horse of the Year candidate Ghostzapper, it is highly unlikely this one will be ignored. A filly by Horse Chestnut, she is out of the Silver Deputy mare Getaway Girl, a half-sister to Ghostzapper and City Zip. Even if she never gets to run, this will be a coveted broodmare.

Fourteen hip numbers grabbed my attention from book 4, scheduled for next Monday and Tuesday, including these five:

* Hip No. 2196: A filly by hot first-crop sire Giant's Causeway out of the stakes-winning Lord at War mare Lovat's Lady. Her third dam, Lady Winborne (a half-sister to the great European filly Allez France), produced five stakes winners. Fourth dam is the special broodmare Priceless Gem.

* Hip No. 2441: A filly by Lemon Drop Kid out of the Damascus mare Bright City (a half-sister to Effervescing and Bubbling), her second dam is Sparkling, a full sister to My Boss Lady and half-sister to Hitting Away, Batter Up, Glamour, and Bases Full.

* Hip No. 2487: By Tale of the Cat, this filly is an RF (inbred 4x3 to State). Her third dam, State, is the dam of five stakes winners: Narrate, Preach, Pulpit, Tale of the Cat, Minardi, and Johannesburg.

* Hip No. 2493: A filly by Dixie Union out of a half-sister to Slew Gin Fizz, this is an RF (inbred 5x4 to Gold Digger, the dam of Mr. Prospector).

* Hip No. 2785: By Swain out of a Kingmambo mare, this RF filly born for turf is exquisitely inbred 3x3 to the very important broodmare Square Angel, and is my top selection among all fillies in this sale.

Fillies from strong female families are especially attractive because even if they never race, they have residual value as future broodmares. These are the kind of fillies who become the cornerstone of breeding operations.