08/10/2006 11:00PM

Owner returns with deeper pockets


One new face at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select yearling sale this year was Marc Keller. Keller isn't a first-time horse owner, but he is returning after a long absence from the game - and at a relatively high level.

On Saturday, his runner Grand Couturier, a private purchase from France, was to contest the Sword Dancer at Saratoga. A week later, two of his runners still in France, a 3-year-old Barathea colt named Barastraight and a 2-year-old Panis filly called Out of Time, will compete in Deauville stakes. Both Barastraight and Out of Time will head for the States at the end of the year.

Keller first got into racing back in the 1980's, intending the sport to be a hobby. But his stable ballooned, and suddenly it seemed more work than pleasure.

"I started reducing because it got too time-consuming and what started as a diversion became a full-time job," Keller said. "I had gone from six horses to 26, but it was fun. Racing is fun, and the people are fun."

That is one of the reasons he has jumped back in the game again. At Fasig-Tipton's opening session on Tuesday, Keller purchased a pair of fillies. One was a $400,000 Unbridled's Song filly out of the Dixieland Band mare Always Ready, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire More Than Ready. The other was a $240,000 Yes It's True-Jocey's Dance filly from the family of Grade 1 winner Grecian Flight.

"Ultimately, I'd like to probably have six decent broodmares and supplement that occasionally," Keller said. "That's the long-term plan."

Keller plans to breed for his own racing stable, though he doesn't rule out the occasional sale.

"Homebreeding, you're not a slave to fashion," he explained. "You can breed to who you want. If you prefer distances to sprinting - and I do have some preference for distance - you can justify that.

"And if you have a foal by a horse that gets hot, you have the option of selling into a hot market that year. It gives you a few more financial options, even if you are breeding to race."

For the moment, though, Keller is a buyer. But he's determined to keep the numbers down and the quality up.

"Back then, I wouldn't have been at the select sale," Keller said of his 1980s incarnation. "I would have been at the open sale. This time I'm coming back on a smaller basis, but hopefully on a level or two above where I was."

Gainesway raking it in

Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky., has reeled off a number of high-priced horses from its consignments at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga and July sales. At Saratoga, the farm sold the opening session's top-priced lot, a $1.15 million Sky Mesa filly out of Darling My Darling bred by Debby Oxley. John Ferguson, representing Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, was the buyer.

The farm also sold a $900,000 Elusive Quality-Mermaid's Tale colt to Zayat Stables, an $800,000 Mr. Greeley-Tell Me Now colt to Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne, and 11 other yearlings for a total of $6.27 million. That's on top of its July sale results, which grossed $2,317,000 for 14 yearlings.

The farm's chairman is Graham Beck, and the president is his son, Antony. Graham Beck purchased the farm in 1989 from its founder, the late John Gaines. In recent years, the operation has added some new blood to its stallion roster, including 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex, 2002 sprint champion Orientate, and Grade 1 winner Officer. They fill spots left by such established, but now pensioned, sires as Broad Brush.

"The renaissance is on," Gainesway's director of sales Michael Hernon said. "The switch is underway from the previous regime of stallions Mr. Gaines put in place, and that's just through the attrition of time. We've got a great farm to begin with, and we've got skillful horsemen, and ultimately racecourse performance of Gainesway products is bearing fruit in the sales ring."

Syndicate has a winner on its resume

Last year, a group of young investors made their first foray into the perilous world of pinhooking, under the leadership of 23-year-old Price Bell of Lexington, Ky. That venture paid off on July 30 at Saratoga for one of their customers, buyer John Fort.

Bell, the son of bloodstock agent Headley Bell, knew something about horses and managed to convince about 30 other people, all between ages 21 and 32, that they should invest $7,000 a share and form a pinhooking syndicate, Sequoia LLC. The group had a hit back last July at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky summer yearling sale, where they sold to Fort's Peachtree Stable a $150,000 Smart Strike-One Over Prime colt they had bought as a weanling for $57,000. Now named Twilight Meteor and trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt won in his first start at Saratoga. He beat Holiday Trip by a neck in a maiden race on the grass on July 30.

"There's nothing not to like about him," Fort said at the Saratoga sale grounds last week. "He's from one of the best Canadian families. . . . He isn't a big, powerful horse, but, heck, they don't need to be. And all winter long he trained like a little soldier."