02/13/2004 1:00AM

Man with multi-colored shirts will be missed


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Feb. 8 death from cancer of international bloodstock agent Joss Collins prompted a flood of memories about his sale-ring exploits.

Collins, who was 56, is most famous for a purchase he made while only in his 30's. In 1985, he bid on behalf of a partnership including Robert Sangster, John Magnier, and Vincent O'Brien to acquire the yearling Seattle Dancer for a world-record $13.1 million. But that moment was not among his favorites, his friends and acquaintances say. Indeed, he once told Racing Post bloodstock writer Rachel Pagones that he felt "embarrassed" signing the ticket for such an eye-popping price.

Collins was better known among his colleagues for far less flashy purchases that did well for clients who had limited budgets, and, by all accounts, those achievements were the ones he remembered most fondly.

Jimmy George, once a writer for England's Pacemaker magazine and now marketing chief at the Tattersalls auction house, recalled Collins telling him that his favorite job was fulfilling a highly specific order for 41 inexpensive yearlings for a Mexican client.

"Thirty of the horses had to average $5,000, nine had to average $10,000, and he was allowed to buy one for $50,000, and that one had to be a filly with a decent pedigree," George said. "I remember him saying his math wasn't quite up to all that! All of the horses were bought at the back end of the Keeneland September sale, so he would dash around the barns looking at yearlings, to the ring to bid, and then have to stop and do his addition and division to figure up the averages. He said it was the most fun he ever had at a sale. And the best part was that the 50-grander turned out to be a champion in Mexico."

The flashiest thing about Collins was his sale-ground attire. Collins, whose face bore a perpetual expression of wry amusement, had a penchant for multi-colored striped shirts, which he sometimes paired alarmingly with red trousers or, as George put it, "those terrible shorts."

The mode of dress made him stand out, but he stood out even more for his immense work ethic.

"Any time we had a new runner at the sales, someone new to the business, we would always point out the man in the multi-colored shirt and say, 'No one, living or dead, has ever worked harder or looked at more horses than that man,' " said Lincoln Collins, a Lexington-based bloodstock agent who is not related to Joss Collins. "I wrote to him recently and reminded him of my favorite of his sales. It was a Keeneland September sale when he bought the first horse through the ring and, two weeks later, he bought the last horse through the ring. That really sums it up. He loved buying horses, and a sale wasn't a sale without Joss Collins."

"He probably was happiest on the last day at Keeneland September, when everyone else would be on their knees gasping for breath," said George. "He was everything that was good about the game."

Fasig-Tipton alters sale dates

Fasig-Tipton has made some changes to its upcoming sale calendar. With Keeneland's July sale canceled this year, Fasig-Tipton Kentucky has shifted the dates of its own July yearling sale at Newtown Paddocks in Lexington to July 19-20. The sale previously was set for July 21-22.

"We talked to buyers and consignors, and they thought Monday and Tuesday was more convenient," Fasig-Tipton chief operating officer Boyd Browning said. "Monday and Tuesday are the traditional dark days at racetracks, and Del Mar opens on a Wednesday this year. This will also allow consignors to be here a day or two less than they would have been."

Fasig-Tipton Midlantic has canceled its July 2-year-old sale, which was to be at Timonium in Maryland. "We're not having that sale because of the renovations going on at Laurel," Browning said. "They're closing down the backstretch there and using the stalls at Timonium, so there's no room at the inn."

Other sales at Timonium should not be affected, including a May 17-18 2-year-old sale.

* Keeneland has cataloged 265 juveniles for its April 2-year-old sale, which is set for April 13 at 1:30 p.m. That is a record number, nosing out the previous record of 262 cataloged for the 2003 auction.

* Dr. William O. Reed's Mare Haven Farm has been put on the market through Weesner Properties at a price of $4,207,500.