02/08/2002 1:00AM

New buyer Gill makes a splash

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The Ocala Breeders' sale of 2-year-olds in training at Calder Race Course Tuesday was, despite the uncertain economic times, a record-breaker.

A total of 114 sold for an average of $114,395. The previous record average of $103,853 for 136 lots was set last year. The median rose from last year's $75,000 to a new high of $90,000. At last year's sale, 55 lots sold for $100,000 or more; this year 53 hit that mark and there were 22 fewer horses sold.

Among the new buyers at the sale was Mike Gill, a New Hampshire mortgage broker. With trainers Mark Shuman and Jerry Robb accompanying him, Gill was the sale's leading buyer, spending $1,040,000. He began by buying Hip No. 4, a colt by Saint Ballado, for $200,000. Next he bought Hip No. 44, a colt by Storm Creek, for $360,000; Hip No. 50, a filly by Unbridled Song, $180,000; and Hip No. 144, a colt by Mr. Greeley, $300,000.

"I started buying 2-year-olds at the Texas sales last year - bought a dozen or so," said Gill, who by his own count has more than 100 horses in training. "They worked out so I am trying this market. I'll let my trainers decide who gets what from this sale."

Carl Bowling of Straightaway Farm has an uncanny knack for pin-hooking the well-bred yearling who seems to be flawed and then develops into a crack 2-year-old. That is what he did with Grade 1 winner City Zip, whom he bought for $9,000 as a yearling.

In September he paid $25,000 for a Saint Ballado colt who turned out to be Hip No. 106 Tuesday, and he bought a Storm Cat colt for $150,000 - less than one-third Storm Cat's stud fee - who on Tuesday sold as Hip No. 142. The Saint Ballado colt went to the McKathan brothers - Kevin and J.B. - agent for furniture magnate James McIngvale, for $500,000, making it the sale-topper. The Storm Cat colt went to Harry Benson, agent for John Patitucci, for $400,000.

"You know," said Kevin McKathan, "this colt would not have been my kind of yearling. He is not a good walker, and that's basically what you get to see when you are at the yearling sales. He's still an awkward walker, but when you see him under tack, he's as smooth as silk. He sells himself."

The sale-topper will return to Ocala with the McKathan brothers for final polishing and then be shipped to Bob Baffert's California stable.

The sale-topper and the four bought by Gill all worked a furlong in 10 and change in an under tack show.

The freshman first-crop star of the sale had to be Ocala Stud's Concerto, who stands for $3,500 live foal. The millionaire son of Chief's Crown had four consigned to the sale: Hip No. 33, a colt, sold for $105,000; Hip No. 38, a filly, sold for $230,000; Hip No. 177, a colt, went for $85,000; and Hip No. 201, a filly, also sold for $85,000.

Tom Ventura, the Ocala Breeders' Sales general manager, was upbeat about the overall numbers.

"It's a good start for the 2-year-old sales season," he said. "I am a little disappointed that the buy-back rate went from roughly 28 percent last year to 35 percent this year, but last year's buy-back rate was lower than the norm for 2-year-old sales."