08/12/2004 11:00PM

For Linder, 50 years of sales and tales

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Bertram Linder, 88, can almost always be found in an aisle seat near the back of Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga sale pavilion, to the right of the auctioneer as he looks out from his stand. And there is good reason to find Linder, whose five decades at the Saratoga auction have given him a deep stock of stories to tell about horses and horse people. The 2004 sale marked Linder's 50th year, and he has seen plenty of changes in the yearling market since he first arrived and showed a horse to trainer Max Hirsch.

"I was totally green," Linder said. "He asked me, 'Are you nervous?' I said, 'Yes, sir!' He said, 'Well, relax, I'm going to buy your horse.' " He bought that Double Jay yearling for $5,000, and he bought a horse from Linder every year after that until Hirsch died in 1969.

A $5,000 yearling is unheard of at Saratoga today. The average price at this year's sale was $304,700.

"I remember when the highest stud fee in the world was $5,000," Linder said. "Native Dancer had it, and I bred to him. But it was much more possible then for a breeder to make money, and there were no agents. People came with their trainers, and if they liked what a yearling looked like, they bought it.

"I don't want to knock agents, for heaven's sake, because they're my bread and butter. But when they're looking at a horse, their future is on the line, too. And if they pick bad horses, they're in trouble. So they nitpick the horses. But if you look at some of the great champions on the racetrack and all their flaws, you see that there are very few perfect individuals."

Another change Linder notes is the prevalence of pinhookers, resellers who buy yearlings to break and train for the 2-year-old auctions.

"When pinhooking started, they were the floor of the market at $20,000 or $30,000," he said. "This year, a pinhooker bought my Storm Cat yearling for $385,000. And the underbidder was a pinhooker! It's amazing.

"I'm now friendly with the sons and grandsons of the people I knew back when I started. But I'm already looking forward to next year. I've got a Storm Cat colt to sell and a Point Given filly to sell, so there's a lot to look forward to. After all these years, I doubt that anyone could count my pulse when something of mine comes in the ring, it's racing so fast."

Million-dollar bargain for Lukas

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas walked out of the Saratoga auction Thursday with two relative bargains.

One was a $1 million Storm Cat colt out of the Gone West mare Gone to Venus that he bought from Three Chimneys for Bob and Beverly Lewis. Considering that the colt is a full brother to two previous Saratoga sale-toppers at $3.3 million (Habayeb in 2001) and $1.7 million (Saudi Poetry, an eventual Grade 2 winner, in 1998), Lukas thought he got off a little light.

"I've had extreme good luck with Gone Wests in my career and I've had great luck with Storm Cat, and I've got the combination in this pedigree," Lukas said. "I was extremely, extremely pleased to get him for $1 million.

"They're all here tonight, so that must be what he was worth," he added, looking around the pavilion at big-spending rivals such as Stan Fulton and John Oxley. "I'm glad it's early, and I'm glad it was raining."

Lukas's other major purchase for the Lewises was a nostalgic one, a $665,000 Silver Deputy colt out of Lukas-trained two-time champion Life's Magic. Trackside Farm, as agent, consigned the colt, a half-brother to a pair of stakes-placed runners.

"The mare's never had much from her foals, but I never trained any of them, and I'm eager to try one," Lukas said.

New horse center gets first two retirees

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation's new Secretariat Center, located at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., has gotten its first two residents. Slow Down Sally and Splendid Tilt, both mares, arrived Thursday at the 22-acre facility.

Slow Down Sally is a 7-year-old Hermitage mare out of the Sword Dance matron Pink Pen. Splendid Tilt, a winner who earned $28,662 at the races, is a 14-year-old Tilt Up mare out of Splendid View, by Native Royalty.

"Slow Down Sally and Splendid Tilt have been turned out this morning and look very happy grazing at the new facility," the TRF's Missy Klick said Thursday.

The Secretariat Center has room for about 20 retired racehorses from the TRF and other Thoroughbred rescue and adoption organizations. Many of the Secretariat Center horses will be retrained for adoption and second careers.