02/06/2004 1:00AM

Obscure mare's value skyrockets


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A $10,000 broodmare nicknamed "Freu" at Claire Reece's Rockwell Farm near Lexington is looking like a million bucks these days. To be precise, she's looking like $1.6 million.

That's the amount her Wild Rush colt brought Tuesday at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's select 2-year-old sale at Calder. The price was a record for the auction, easily outdoing the $1.2 million that Chapel Royal brought there last year.

Freu, whose registered name is Freudenau, is a spectacular example of a fast-maturing investment for her owners, 20-year-old Jake Lantaff, his mother Kate, teenage sister Sarah, and grandmother Virginia Taft. Jake Lantaff is a student at the University of Kentucky who has his heart set on making a career in the Thoroughbred business, and he has gotten off to a big start. Jake and his mother selected Freudenau from the December Farm consignment at the 2002 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Jake did the bidding. Freudenau was 6 at the time, and she didn't have much to her credit. She was unraced and had just two foals on the ground.

"I liked that she was by Meadowlake, because I like that whole Prince John line," Jake Lantaff said. "She's a big mare, close to 17 hands, and she's a really pretty chestnut with a lot of white, very eye-catching. And she's correct. I figured I could get her cheap because she wasn't in foal."

"It's a nice old Darby Dan family," said Kate Lantaff, pointing out that Freudenau's third dam is a full sister to Roberto. "Those families have a way of jumping up with something. They'll be quiet for a while, and then everything will happen at once."

The Lantaffs sent Freudenau to Reece's farm. The family, which operates under the name Epona Equine, decided to breed their new mare to Grand Slam. On Christmas Eve, they got bad news: Freudenau had aborted the Grand Slam foal they had been awaiting for 11 months.

"That really just threw us all for a loop," Kate Lantaff said. "Grand Slam was having such a banner year, and it would have been a January foal, too. Everything conspired to make it a down Christmas for us."

A foal the Lantaffs hadn't bred was about to make up somewhat for that loss, however. Freudenau's weanling Wild Rush colt had also sold at the 2002 Keeneland November sale, for a mere $6,200. No one would ever have suspected it then, but that inexpensive weanling would be the magic wand that turned Freudenau into a hot commodity. Bought by a pinhooking concern, the Wild Rush colt sold as a yearling at OBS's August sale in Ocala, Fla., for $45,000, where another pinhooker, Willie North, bought him. North took him to the Calder sale, and that's where things started happening.

Jake and Kate Lantaff knew nothing about how Freudenau's colt was doing, so when he came up in the OBS Calder catalog, Jake asked someone to go take a look at him. Jake started to get excited about the colt when he breezed an eighth in 10.40 seconds, one of the fastest times at two under tack shows.

The Lantaffs thought the colt might bring $200,000, maybe even more. They watched the sale via the Internet, talking to each other on the phone.

"When he went past a million, our mouths had dropped open onto our chests," Kate Lantaff said.

Even before North sold the $1.6 million Wild Rush colt to Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson, Kate Lantaff's phone in Washington state started ringing with offers.

"At this point, we're not going to sell," Jake Lantaff said. "I'm kind of attached to the mare, for one, and we'd like to wait and see what this colt can do. If he turns out to be what people think he's going to be, then we'll be sitting on a nice mare."

If anyone calling the Lantaffs to buy Freudenau thought the family might not understand the mare's value, they quickly found out otherwise. The Lantaffs aren't novices in the Thoroughbred game. Kate Lantaff used to gallop horses for Charlie Whittingham and was also a bloodstock agent for John Franks, and the family has sold horses at Barretts in recent years. They have about 25 horses, including 16 mares, half of whom are at Rancho San Miguel in California.

Freudenau, of course, is queen bee among all the Lantaffs' mares, and it looks like she will stay that way. She's booked to Swain this year, and the family hopes they will get something like the Wild Rush colt to sell themselves.

"This has been like waking up and finding out you've hit all six numbers on your lottery ticket," Kate Lantaff said. "I'm kind of loath to let someone else cash that ticket."