06/30/2005 11:00PM

Mulligans' method a winner

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By most measures, this was a solid year for those yearling pin-hookers who resell at the 2-year-old sales. The number of horses offered at such sales was more than in 2004, and the market handled the increase with millions in additional sales.

It was a solid year as well for Mike and Britt Mulligan, who pin-hook yearlings under the banner of Leprechaun Racing. The Mulligans, as do most pin-hookers, have co-investors. But unlike a usual partnership setup, the Leprechaun Racing modus operandi is similar to buying a mutual fund: Investors take a piece of everything rather than bits and pieces of yearling packages. In 2004 the Mulligans went to the yearlings sales and invested $3.7 million for 43 yearlings. These yearling purchases brought $6.2 million at the recent 2-year-old auctions.

Among them were Master of Disaster, bought for $63,000 and sold at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Calder sale in February to Puglisi Stable for $600,000. Following an impressive debut at Delaware Park, the Dance Master colt is scheduled to race in Saratoga's juvenile fixtures. Additional Leprechaun Racing graduates from this year's 2-year-old sales include the winners Adieu and Winning Toast.

Leprechaun Racing has its roots in Arizona, where the Mulligan family had relocated from Brooklyn. Mike Mulligan earned student spending money by working in stables and walking hots at Southwestern county fairs. He liked working with horses and thought that some day he could make a living in the horse business. But all this would have to wait until circumstances were favorable. In the interim he worked for Budget Rent a Car and became its New England regional manager

"I had always wanted to be more in the sales end of the Thoroughbred industry," he said. "For a while I did some racing and then some pin-hooking."

Mulligan's first pin-hooking venture was a home run. He bought a yearling for $1,800 and sold it a few months later as a 2-year-old in training for $25,000.

His yen to work in the Thoroughbred business accelerated when he met his wife, Britt. Britt Mulligan, a native Floridian, had hopes of making a living in the Thoroughbred industry herself. Towardthat end, she attended Louisiana Tech, where she earned a masters degree in zoology and completed a Thoroughbred trainer course. A dozen years ago, Mike was looking for a horse or two to buy, and Britt had horses to sell. Their paths crossed and he bought a horse from her. They've been a team ever since.

Leprechaun Racing is again preparing for the coming yearling auctions. The formula is to stay south of the $200,000 mark for a pin-hook and, as in the past, to focus on athletic-appearing yearlings. The target zone is the $60,000 to $90,000 range. The Mulligans' first priority is for the yearling to look the part. They have their own standards as to what constitutes an acceptable yearling.

"If you buy both pedigree and appearance, you are likely to spend more than you normally do on a pin-hook," Mike said. "These are the kinds of yearlings that sell for $500,000 or more and are pin-hooked for a million or more. Too risky for us."

The pin-hooked yearlings are shipped from sales venues to the Mulligan home base in Ocala, Fla., where they begin the sorting process. Some yearlings immediately get with the sales prep program while others require more time. Mulligan will tell you that it is not that easy to determine which sale to focus on, as the soon-to-be 2-year-olds can change dramatically in a matter of weeks. You think a yearling is going to come around quickly, and he does not, he said, and then you have to scratch and await a later sale because the sales horse needs the time.

Leprechaun Racing's evaluation of the current 2-year-old market is that it is strong. But one has to be careful, as there has been a trend toward more pin-hooking. As a group, Mulligan said, the pin-hookers may have spent too much in '04. There are sales, he said, that are ultra-select and only the top of the line attracts the bid, and if you haven't consigned a top-of-the-line 2-year-old in that market, you are going to have trouble getting your price. Mulligan is also of the opinion that specific markets - and he cites OBS, Fasig-Tipton, and Keeneland 2-year-old sales - often have different buying clientele and you have to determine which horse fits which market.

Leprechaun Racing's investment pool will be around $4 million for the coming yearling sales. And the Mulligans have already begun their catalog scrutiny.