08/08/2003 12:00AM

Looking for lightning again


Fasig-Tipton didn't have a difficult decision when it came to selecting the cover photograph for its preferred yearling sale of New York-breds at Saratoga.

The obvious choice was this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Funny Cide, a graduate of the sale two years ago.

When the two-day sale begins Sunday evening, the buzz around the sales grounds probably will be focused on Funny Cide and the chances of finding another horse like him from the more than 220 yearlings in this year's catalog.

Funny Cide, who was bred by the Kentucky-based WinStar Farm, was purchased for $22,000 at the preferred sale by Tony Everard, a Florida-based pinhooker who later sold the horse to his current owners, Sackatoga Stable, for $75,000. Funny Cide, a son of Distorted Humor, was born in Saratoga Springs at McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds.

Boyd T. Browning Jr., the chief operating officer at Fasig-Tipton, said Funny Cide's achievements have made him an excellent ambassador for the New York-bred program.

"I don't think in our wildest dreams we imagined that a sales graduate would win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness," Browning said. "He certainly legitimizes the quality of the New York-bred sale. The sale has been showing steady improvement in quantity and quality over the years. This is our biggest catalog and without a doubt the best group of individuals. I think we will have the strongest group of buyers we have ever seen."

Because of the large number of horses consigned to last year's sale, Fasig-Tipton expanded the sale to two days for the first time. Browning said the auction house wasn't sure what to expect, but was pleased with the results. At the two sessions combined, 108 horses sold for a total of $5,345,500. Eleven head sold for $100,000 or more.

"We were a little apprehensive because with change there is pause for concern," Browning said. "I would like to say we did something magical to make [the sale] better, but it's the quality of the New York-bred horses that has continued to improve. The breeders are raising better horses."

Dennis Brida, the executive director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, said he has received strong vibes from several NYTB members concerning the preferred sale.

"A prominent owner told me he was much more interested in the New York catalog than the select catalog," Brida said. "He said he thought he could get a really good New York-bred for $100,000.

"I think Funny Cide will bring a little bit of magic to the sale," Brida added. "There are some interesting pedigrees, and really I don't think this is a sale you want to avoid."

Many consignors who have been regulars at the preferred sale will be back in force this year, including Tom Gallo, Harry Landry, McMahon of Saratoga Thoroughbreds, Jeff Minton, Sugar Maple Farm, and Summerfield.

There also will be some new faces, including Sez Who Thoroughbreds North, which has become one of the biggest commercial breeding operations in New York since Richard Simon opened the farm in the summer of 2001.

Eight yearlings from the first crop of foals to be born at Sez Who North, which is located in Stillwater, near Saratoga Springs, are in the sale. Among the sires representing the Sez Who North consignment are Woodman, Notebook, and Mazel Trick.

"We're kind of excited about our first attempt in the New York-bred market," said Steve Silver, the director of operations at Sez Who Thoroughbreds. "We have decent-looking stock that I believe will sell well."

Darby Dan Farm is no stranger to the Saratoga sales scene, but the Kentucky-based operation has never had a consignment at the preferred sale until this year. Darby Dan has four yearlings, including a Maria's Mon filly whom Darby Dan Bloodstock bought last year for $22,000 at Keeneland. There is also a filly by Behrens, who stands stud at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington.

For the first time in many years, Darby Dan was not represented at last week's select sale. Wayne Sweezey, the co-managing partner at Darby Dan with John W. Phillips, said the reason for the absence was the effect the mare reproductive loss syndrome had on the farm.

"We were hit as badly as anyone, and that created a shortage of yearlings," Sweezey said. "It would be foolish to come with a product that doesn't apply [at the select sale]."

Sweezey said it was quite by accident that Darby Dan got involved in the New York-bred market.

"We were involved in a pinhooking venture with a Maria's Mon filly who was a New York-bred and would be good in that [sales] market," Sweezey said. "The market value in New York is increasing all the time, and then Funny Cide hit. We didn't want to go with just one horse and we came across some very nice New York-bred fillies. I anticipate a very good market at this sale."

The sale runs Sunday and Monday, with a 7 p.m. starting time for both sessions.