03/09/2007 12:00AM

Pinhook partners put trust in Kight


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The partners that sold the recent Fasig-Tipton Calder sale-topper, a $2.5 million Storm Cat colt bought by Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne, haven't all met each other face to face. But they have three things in common: a willingness to play the volatile and risky yearling-to-juvenile pinhooking game, trainer Hoby Kight, and exceptional luck. Now they have also achieved a personal best at auction, thanks to the well-bred colt they bought for $1 million as a yearling.

Hoby and Layna Kight, who consigned the colt through their sales agency, brought together the other partners - breeders Don and Pam Mattox, construction business owner Norman Adams, and Internet executive Drew Raymon - in 2006. Each had already had pinhooking success with the Kights and other agents, and were prepared to buy in when Hoby Kight selected a $1 million Storm Cat-Moon Safari yearling.

Mattox, who has known Hoby Kight since they both were in the Quarter Horse business in the late 1970's, accompanied Kight to the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale.

"I was probably more nervous buying him than I was selling him," Mattox said of the $1 million purchase. "Once you get over the initial step of buying him, it's pretty easy, but that first step was a big one."

Since moving from Quarter Horses to Thoroughbreds about 10 years ago, the Mattoxes have reaped some sizeable rewards, most recently when they sold Tiz Wonderful last year with the Kights. Tiz Wonderful, a $200,000 yearling purchase, brought $475,000 at the Calder sale and is now a graded stakes winner for Stonestreet Stables.

"When we got that horse," Mattox said of Tiz Wonderful, "every time Hoby went out on the track with him, he was better and better. And Hoby rides his own horses, so he knows.

"This horse, I think, can be that kind of horse," he said of the $2.5 million Storm Cat colt.

Raymon, 46, did not hesitate to get involved in the partnership. Kight pinhooked the first horse Raymon ever invested in, selling a $120,000 Forestry yearling for $400,000 as a juvenile in 2005. That filly became Grade 1 winner Diplomat Lady. Raymon attended the Calder auction with his wife and parents. Did they think he was crazy for spending $1 million in the hopes of a quick profit?

"Even I think I was a little crazy for doing it," he said. "But I've got to say this: I think Hoby is the most brilliant pinhooker in the world, and I thought him buying this Storm Cat colt was probably the best way to show his talent on a world stage. He deserves it.

"That Storm Cat colt is going to grow up to be a monster."

Adams, a longtime pinhooking partner with the Kights and others, had an equally lucky start in the business. He says he met pinhooker Ricky Leppala, a former rider, when Leppala hired him to build a house, but he didn't invest right away when Leppala extended an invitation to him. Two years later, Leppala hired him to build a $200,000 barn, paid in cash, and mentioned he had already paid off his house and bought another 43 acres - all through pinhooking proceeds.

"I thought, 'He must have done something right,' " Adams recalled. Next time Leppala asked him, in 1995, Adams invested $25,000 in a pair of yearlings who later sold for $130,000 and $230,000.

With various agents, Adams has since had bigger scores, including a $1.6 million sale-topper and a $2 million private sale. When Kight called about the Storm Cat colt last September, Adams was caribou hunting in the Arctic.

"When I got back to Winnipeg, I had a message on my phone that said, 'Sit down and call me,' " Adams recalled. "I usually go hunting or fishing that time of year, and Hoby usually has a surprise for me when I get back.

"But it wasn't a real shock," Adams added, noting that, in today's pinhooking market, you have to spend money to make money.

"We've done real well," he said. "Anytime you can sell a horse for $1 million or more, it's special."

Horse Park receives major bequest

John Henry turned 32 on Friday, but it was the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington that got the biggest gift. At a birthday party for the two-time Horse of the Year, Horse Park executive director John Nicholson announced that the heirs to John Henry's owners are donating their entire collection of John Henry racing memorabilia to the park.

The collection, including the gelding's racing trophies, will reside in the International Museum of the Horse. John Henry was Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984, champion older horse in 1981, and champion turf male in 1980-81 and 1983-84. He won 25 graded stakes, 16 of them Grade 1 events. Retired as the sport's all-time leading money earner with $6,591,860, he has lived at the Horse Park's Hall of Champions for the last two decades.

"It has been our great privilege to be John Henry's stewards all these years, and now we'll have this fine collection on permanent display in our museum to tell the story of his unparalleled racing accomplishments," Nicholson said.