08/12/2004 11:00PM

King and Ward add cash, color to sale


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The first time trainer Wesley Ward's life intersected with Roger King's, about 15 years ago in Miami, it resulted in perhaps the fastest pinhooking success on record.

Ward had just bought a colt at Fasig-Tipton's Calder juvenile sale, a colt that King had made a bid on. When they ran into Ward after the auction, King's trainer, Sonny Hine, kidded the famously competitive owner about losing the colt.

"He tapped Roger on the shoulder and said, 'I can't believe you let this kid outbid you for that horse!' " Ward recalled. "So Roger turns to me and goes, 'You want $20,000 for the ticket? I'll give you $20,000 for it right now. Where else are you going to make $20,000 in five minutes?' "

How can you argue with that logic? Ward handed over the auction ticket and the colt for a lightning $20,000 profit.

"Unfortunately for Roger, the horse didn't work out," Ward said. "A couple of years ago, I was at Gulfstream, and my friend Ronnie Ebanks introduced me to Roger again. I told him, 'Roger, I know you're out $20,000 from meeting me.' Roger loves to gamble, and I told him, 'If you bet $2,000 on my first-time starter in the last race, we'll be even.' He bet on him, the horse went wire to wire, and the rest is, well, here we are."

"Here" was Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga sale pavilion on Thursday night, where King and Ward had just bought the session's most expensive yearling, a $1.4 million filly who, unlike that 2-year-old more than a decade ago, appeared to have no downside. Sold by the Eaton Sales agency, she is a daughter of Storm Cat, one of the world's most fashionable stallions, and the champion Jewel Princess. Both of Jewel Princess's foals to race are winners by Storm Cat, and one of them, One Nice Cat, is stakes placed.

"With that pedigree, it doesn't matter if she ever runs," Ward said. "She has a great residual value. But now we hope she'll run well, too."

If she does, King and Ward - who own all their purchases in an 80 percent-20 percent partnership - will own a potential golden goose.

"It makes you nervous giving a lot of money for a horse, but this filly, there's only upside to her," Ward said. "She's worth a lot of money, and her babies will be worth a lot of money. And if she runs, how much could she be worth?"

As it was, Ward and King - who was in Atlantic City and bid via cell phone through Ward - probably got a slight bargain on their Storm Cat filly in a market that was more conservative than many observers expected. Fasig-Tipton's flagship yearling sale, widely expected to make financial gains, posted mild declines across the board a year after a boom market in 2003.

The 2004 auction sold 150 yearlings for total returns of $45,705,000, down 5 percent from last year's gross, when 154 horses brought $48,257,000. The average price dipped 3 percent, falling from $313,357 to $304,700 this year. The median fell somewhat harder, sliding 12 percent from $240,000 to $212,500. But consignors appeared to accept the market well, as buy-backs increased only slightly, from 21 percent last year to 22 percent in 2004.

Roger King, whose major business is in television production through King World Productions, was a helpful market force. In addition to buying the $1.4 million filly, he also was underbidder on the Saratoga sale-topper, a $1.85 million Giant's Causeway-Alaska Queen colt that Barry Irwin of Team Valor bought from Gainesway, agent, at the auction's second session Wednesday night. The auction's other millionaire lots were a $1.5 million A.P. Indy-Seebe filly that Will Farish III purchased from Bettina Jenney's Derry Meeting Farm agency; a $1.15 million Unbridled's Song-Mesmerized colt that new buyer William B. Haines acquired from the Paramount Sales agency; and a $1 million Storm Cat-Gone to Venus colt that Bob and Beverly Lewis bought from Three Chimneys, agent.

The lack of multimillion-dollar fireworks didn't faze Fasig-Tipton officials, who pointed out that the market might have reached a plateau. The auction might also have lost some impetus when Satish Sanan, owner of Padua Stables and flush with homebred yearlings, opted not to attend. Sanan, who has called for reform of sale practices, last month said he was going to boycott the season's yearling sales. Sanan spent more than $4 million at last year's Saratoga sale.

Consignors also pointed to other potential factors, including a sense of conservatism among New York-based bidders. Questions about the New York Racing Association's franchise renewal, legislative inaction on a measure concerning video lottery terminals at New York racetracks, and a recent court decision calling the proposed VLT revenue distribution to purses illegal may have dampened New York racehorse owners' optimism and, consequently, the sale.

"I don't know what it is, but I know our shows were down, our vettings were down," said Tom Van Meter of Eaton Sales, which consigned the $1.4 million Storm Cat filly. "We didn't have the big colts like we had last year. We had nice fillies, but this is more a colt sale. A lot of New York trainers weren't here. It's just a little quieter this year, so to get $1.4 million for her, we're thrilled. It was a great price in a conservative market.

"I was nervous, because we thought Roger was on the horse, but we hadn't seen Wesley much or Roger. When Wesley finally walked in there, I breathed a little easier."

"Roger was waiting for my call," said Ward. "We were the underbidder on the sale-topper Wednesday, and he had a great time. One thing about Roger, he's a man of action."

That was clear minutes after Ward pocketed the ticket for the pair's new Storm Cat filly. Walking out of the pavilion, Ward still had King on his mobile, and he turned the speaker-phone on so that the massed reporters could hear King's remarks on his latest $1.4 million gamble.

"I think she looks like a runner, and I think I got her cheap," King's voice crackled from the phone in Ward's hand. "I think she's going to be a champion. Slap a number on her ass and let's get it on."