03/25/2008 11:00PM

Jalil looks like a boom among busts

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - There is something about buying a potentially wonderful racehorse that seems to appeal to some people nearly as much as actually racing one.

Take Charles Fipke, a diamond-finding geologist, who at Arlington for the 2003 Breeders' Cup recounted to a reporter his experience at a 2-year-olds in training sale the spring before. Fipke said he found himself bidding on a hot colt - bidding, and bidding some more. Suddenly, he owned a $2.7 million animal, whom he named Diamond Fury. The horse now is 7. Feb. 13 at Santa Anita, he finished third in an allowance race, bumping his earnings to $135,200.

Not to pick on Fipke. Compared with The Green Monkey, Diamond Fury was a steal. Purchased for $16 million by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, The Green Monkey recently retired after racking up two thirds and a fourth in three starts.

Ouch.

Perversely, these examples are more rule than exception in the stratosphere of the Thoroughbred market. Mr. Sekiguchi, an $8 million yearling in 2004, made four starts, won twice, and earned $85,000. The highest-priced yearlings of the 1980s bloodstock boom - Snaafi Dancer, Imperial Falcon, Jareer - were either unraced or floundered on the track.

"I was talking to Dan Pride the other day, and I said it's about time someone had some luck with one of these horses," a fellow named Bayne Welker said last week.

Pride is the chief operating officer of Darley America. Welker is the manager of Mill Ridge Farm, which consigned a colt named Jalil, for whom Darley's master, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, paid $9.7 million to acquire at the Keeneland September sale in 2005.

And finally, it looks like somebody - Sheikh Mohammed - is having some luck with one of them.

Jalil has made three starts this winter in Dubai, and won them all. His 1 1/2-length victory here March 6 came in the third round of the Maktoum Challenge. The race was a Group 2, and pretty much assured Jalil a profitable career at stud.

The victory also earned Jalil a slot in the Group 1, $6 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday night, where he will take on 12 rivals and take a major step up in class. Should he somehow do the unthinkable - beat Curlin, that is - Jalil would become the first horse ever purchased at the very top of the market actually to live up to his sticker price.

Sheikh Mohammed was involved in some of those 1980s disappointments, and until this winter, Jalil would have gotten lumped in with them. To great fanfare, Jalil launched his racing career in October 2006 in a maiden race at Newmarket, and finished sixth as the odds-on favorite.

Put away for the rest of his 2-year-old season, Jalil came back the following spring at Newbury, a lesser venue, and, favored again, finished second. In June, facing five horses at a minor venue called Ripon, Jalil became a winner. He was next seen in October, light years from the late-season European racing glamour, running over Polytrack at Lingfield. Jalil finished a close second of 12 in an anonymous handicap.

This was a far cry from the horse who had been sold two years before.

"We were very, very high on him," said Martin Wygod. "He was a top prospect."

Wygod already is the big winner in the Jalil saga. Wygod bred Jalil, mating Storm Cat to his mare Tranquility Lake. Tranquility Lake's first foal was After Market, one of the best turf horses in the United States last year, and now an attractive stallion in Kentucky. Selling a yearling for almost $10 million was huge, and of course, Wygod still has Tranquility Lake. How much is she worth now?

Jalil is the only one of Tranquility Lake's first five foals that Wygod sold. "It was a tough call," he said. "If he was not going to sell for a top amount, we weren't going to sell."

But the colt who would be named Jalil had the goods. He was by the top sire Storm Cat, but had richer looks and a better temperament than many Storm Cat offspring, according to Welker, who first laid eyes on the colt the May before he was sold. Diamond A Farm had raised him, but Jalil moved to John and Alice Chandler's Mill Ridge Farm in June for sales prep.

"I remember shortly after he got here telling Mrs. Chandler that this might be a special horse," Welker recalled.

The Storm Cat-Tranquility Lake colt was going to fetch big money, but how big would depend on the particular circumstances of the September sale.

"We didn't have that many people looking at the colt, but then there weren't going to be that many people who could afford him, anyway," Welker said. "But we had the right two people looking."

Those parties would be the representatives of Sheikh Mohammed and of Coolmore, whose bidding wars created the highest-priced horses. That night at the Keeneland auction ring, when the colt was led in and the bidding began, "it had that electric feeling when you know something big is going to happen," Welker said.

But the electricity of a big sale is no match for the cold reality of young horses. Simon Crisford, the longtime spokesman for Godolphin, said that Jalil "looked fantastic when he came in as a yearling." But a yearling is nowhere near a mature racehorse. The body must grow and change. The mind must wrap around the complexities of the racing life. And in his earliest attempts to be a racehorse, Jalil was not ready. Both Crisford and trainer Saeed bin Suroor described Jalil as "weak" at the time of his first start.

"When he got beat at 2 at Newmarket, really, that didn't concern us," Crisford said. "And early on in his 3-year-old campaign, he was still really babyish. When he ran on an undulating track, you could see he wasn't happy on it."

English racing pundits may have scoffed, seeing the $10 million horse turn up at lowly Lingfield last autumn. But Crisford said his close finish on Polytrack spurred the trip to Dubai. Jalil had never set foot on an actual dirt track until he started in the Meydan Marina Handicap on Feb. 8. And just like that, the flop showed signs of life.

Jalil won that night by three lengths, and though he beat little, the race provided a perfect springboard to the next step up. Just 13 days later, Jalil won the 1 1/4-mile Zawaj Handicap by 2 1/2 lengths, beating better horses. In the third round of the Maktoum Challenge last month, he was better still, winning by 1 1/2 lengths, while going 2,000 meters in a fine 2:00.20.

"I really believe giving him time when he was younger made all the difference," Crisford said. "I think the change of surface has helped, but I think he's just come into himself."

At Godolphin's annual open house Wednesday morning, no one was forecasting an upset of Curlin. But win or lose, Jalil is scheduled to ship to the United States next month, probably targeting a start at Saratoga. All things being equal, he will recoup his purchase price and then some in coming years. Now, Godolphin must get to work making something of an unraced 3-year-old named Meydan City: He cost $11.7 million at Keeneland 2006, and is not close to making the races.

You might, like Sheikh Mohammed, have disposable income of epic proportions. But the sheikh's trainer, bin Suroor, having already fielded a thousand questions Wednesday, got off his best answer of the morning:

"This is a sport where you have to be really lucky," he said.