09/15/2004 11:00PM

Mystery buyer: Is it Sekiguchi?

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Conflicting signals are coming from flashy owner Fusao Sekiguchi.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Who bought the sale-record $8 million Storm Cat colt at Keeneland's September yearling sale on Tuesday? The mystery deepened Wednesday, with attention revolving around flamboyant Japanese owner Fusao Sekiguchi.

The mystery buyer was represented in Tuesday's bidding by leading Japanese trainer Hideyuki Mori. Initial speculation centered on Yoshinori Sakae, a new player who bought $1 million yearlings in Australia this spring and purchased a $300,000 Kingmambo-Personal Glory colt from Three Chimneys, agent, on Tuesday. But Sekiguchi showed up at the Keeneland sale grounds briefly Wednesday morning, resplendent in a white linen suit and red silk scarf, and confirmed that he was indeed the buyer.

"Yes," he said simply, when asked if he had made the bid via Mori to secure the colt after a long public auction duel with Coolmore owner John Magnier. Asked again, Sekiguchi again said, "Yes."

But Sekiguchi uncharacteristically declined to make any further comment himself or through a translator regarding where the colt would race or whether he had any partners in the purchase. After confirming that he had bought the colt, a son of Welcome Surprise offered by Will Farish's Lane's End Farm, Sekiguchi was suddenly surrounded by three other members of his party.

"This is not to be discussed," a female translator named Miki said. Asked if they wished to offer comment on any partners who might be involved in the colt's ownership, the colt's plans for racing, or his immediate destination, they consulted briefly in Japanese and then declined, repeating that it "was not to be discussed at all." Then the group, including Sekiguchi, left the pavilion.

Hours later, Sekiguchi's daughter-in-law, Yukari Sekiguchi, publicly denied the purchase. Approached again in the pavilion, Fusao Sekiguchi declined comment and referred questions to a male translator who said, "I cannot comment on this situation."

Asked which story, Fusao's or Yukari's, was accurate, the translator said, "Yukari has the answer," but then added that he did not know Yukari's whereabouts. Pressed as to whether Fusao Sekiguchi did in fact buy the record colt, the translator said, "I cannot comment on any of this."

Keeneland officials also declined comment.

Buyers and sellers are not required to publicly identify themselves and often use agents. Earlier this summer, owner Satish Sanan called for an industry code of ethics that would require agents to disclose the ownership of any horse they are buying or selling.

The Storm Cat colt was an obvious prize, although neither Keeneland sale officials nor regular auction spectators foresaw that he would bring $8 million. The colt is from one of Lane's End's most productive and cherished families. His dam, Welcome Surprise, is a daughter of the Secretariat mare Weekend Surprise, who produced 1992 Horse of the Year and highly successful sire A.P. Indy, Preakness winner Summer Squall, Grade 1-placed Weekend in Seattle, and stakes-placed Honor Grades. Weekend Surprise died in 2001.

Sekiguchi is best known in this country as the flamboyant owner of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, whom he bought as a yearling for $4 million from the Stone Farm consignment at Keeneland. Sekiguchi later sold a majority interest in Fusaichi Pegasus's breeding rights to Coolmore. The deal was private, but it reportedly set the colt's breeding rights at a total value of about $60 million.

With his trademark pony tail, Sekiguchi, 68, is a familiar figure at international select yearling and 2-year-old auctions. He usually savors publicity, bidding openly and discussing plans for his horses, often using a translator to explain what he likes about particular horses he has bought or what the horse's racing plans will be.

Earlier this year, Sekiguchi created a stir at two auctions with record bids. In February, he outbid Satish Sanan at the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old in training sale in Miami, spending $4.5 million for a son of Fusaichi Pegasus. The bid set a world record for a 2-year-old in training sale, breaking the mark of $3.1 million established only hours earlier for a son of Stephen Got Even.

Then, in July, Sekiguchi paid $4.5 million, a world record for a foal, for a colt by Sunday Silence's son Dance in the Dark at the Japan Racing Horse Association's sale. The price broke the foal auction record of $4.4 million set by Sanan in 1997 at Tattersalls in England for the Caerleon colt Padua's Pride.