07/23/2004 12:00AM

Quality is not just elusive - it's expensive

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - At the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of selected yearlings this past week, quality sold at a premium. Most especially Elusive Quality.

The sire of Smarty Jones is the hottest young stallion in the country, and his yearlings received careful scrutiny from yearling inspectors and their buyers. The best and brightest of the group was Hip No. 370, a bay colt out of the Copelan mare Cercida consigned by the Dromoland Farm of Gerry Dilger.

The handsome bay brought $950,000 from John Ferguson, acting for Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai. In addition to racing most of his stock under the famed blue silks of Godolphin, Sheikh Mohammed is an international breeder on a vast scale, and he owns the 11-year-old Elusive Quality, who stands at Sheikh Maktoum al Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud outside Versailles, Ky.

The first sales yearling by Elusive Quality that Godolphin has acquired this year, the colt out of Cercida will be one of a handful of Elusive Quality yearlings in the Godolphin string, since the operation typically does not patronize unproven stallions.

But for the top-selling yearling at Fasig-Tipton, the combination of relative scarcity and being by Elusive Quality put the finishing touches of commercial demand on a colt who is an exceptional physical specimen.

For symmetry and smoothness of form, the Elusive Quality yearling is outstanding. He has a very good head, with a large and inquisitive eye. He has alertness and presence, showing a fluid walk as he went around the show ring.

The Fasig-Tipton July sale leader is a high-quality yearling colt with very good balance. A strong colt, the son of Elusive Quality has a very good length of neck and body, and a very good shoulder and hindquarter. Practically faultless, the colt was a nearly perfect example of the horseman's art of growing a handsome and athletic young racing prospect.

He attracted a great number of yearling inspectors, leaving most with the impression that he was an outstanding yearling that they would not be able to afford.

The Fasig-Tipton sale's high-priced yearling was exactly the sort of young horse that his owners hoped for when they bought his dam.

"He was a very nice colt from the first and never had a problem along the way," Dilger said. "At the sales grounds, he was very professional, and his condition and reception there are a credit to the staff here who worked so hard to get everything right."

Bred in Kentucky by Santa Rosa Partners (Dilger and partners), the Elusive Quality colt is the eighth foal out of Cercida, a stakes-winning daughter of Copelan whom the partners bought for $135,000 at the Keeneland January sale in 2003. At the time, Cercida was carrying the foal that became the $950,000 yearling.

Cercida's son is bred on a similar pattern to Smarty Jones, with regard to the racing class and type of the broodmare and broodmare sire. Smarty Jones and the Cercida yearling are each out of a stakes winner by a fast stallion who could win at a mile. Copelan's best victory came in the one-mile Champagne Stakes at 2. The most important victory for Smile, broodmare sire of Smarty Jones, was the Breeders' Cup Sprint at six furlongs.

The decision to mate Elusive Quality with Cercida came from Dan Considine, an owner and breeder who boards mares and raises a few yearlings for the sales. Considine and Steve Snowden bought Cercida, carrying a foal by Salt Lake, for $52,000 at the Keeneland November sale in 1999.

"The first foal we got out of her was a Salt Lake, which sold the week after Sept. 11," Considine said. It brought only $62,000 amid the economic turmoil of that month in 2001. In selecting a mate for the mare in 2002, Considine turned to the emerging potential of Elusive Quality.

But before the mare foaled, the partners decided to sell one of their mares in foal to the young sire.

The partners "had two mares in foal to Elusive Quality and obviously sold the wrong one," Considine said. "The yearling out of the other brought $62,000 [Hip No. 489]. But looking at the positive side, this [sale-topping] yearling's physical quality and commercial reception just lets me know that I'm buying the right sort of mares. And we got a really good price for the mare at the time.

"The foal was really nice from the time he was born," Considine said, "and Gerry Dilger told me five or six months ago that this was a special colt."

And so he was.