02/20/2004 12:00AM

Reasons for optimism at Fasig-Tipton


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The select market for Thoroughbreds has been hot since last year's Saratoga yearling sale, and officials at Fasig-Tipton are hoping buyers' desire for racing stock will warm the market up even more in Miami on Feb. 24. That's when the auction house will hold its annual select 2-year-old sale in the Calder Race Course paddock.

Predicting the bloodstock market is as difficult as plotting the stock market. But sellers at the Fasig-Tipton Calder sale have several reasons for some optimism that Tuesday's auction will continue the recent bull market for high-class horses. Buyers in general - including some of the traditional big players at select juvenile sales - seem to have loosened their purse strings again. In 2002, with a roiling stock market and economic worries, many buyers pulled in their horns. But last summer and fall, the sale world saw more upper-market buoyancy.

Last year's Fasig-Tipton Calder sale posted moderate declines across the board, but it was still a heady sale. A total of 139 2-year-olds grossed $29,077,000, down 1.4 percent from 2002, and the average price slipped by the same percentage to $209,187. The median fell more sharply, by 14.3 percent, to $150,000. But the top tier of horses still attracted strong bidding, and the sale-topper went for $1.4 million. That was a far cry from the 2000 sale record of $1.95 million for Yonaguska, but it was a sign that the select 2-year-old market still had plenty of kick left in it.

Earlier this month, the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's select juvenile sale at Calder popped off a $1.6 million Wild Rush colt when John Ferguson outbid John Oxley. The presence of such powerful bidders, and their resulting golden duel, may have been a bellwether for the Fasig-Tipton sale. "There's been strong interesting virtually every market in the last six months, and we hope that enthusiasm will carry over to our sale," said Fasig-Tipton's chief operating officer, Boyd Browning.

Buyers' enthusiasm is unpredictable, but Browning suggests that a number of developments - from Funny Cide's Triple Crown bid to low interest rates - are making owners more eager to buy now than they were in 2002 and 2003.

"Basically, people think it's okay to buy horses right now," Browning said. "They're not going crazy buying them, but when you go to the racetrack, there's a significantly different atmosphere than there used to be. Trainers are upbeat, they have owners looking to acquire horses, and people generally feel very positive about the business. People have recovered a lot of their money from the stock market, and I think they've learned that they'd better enjoy some of that profit while they've got it. Five years ago, I think people were afraid to take money out of the stock market, because it might go up 20 or 30 percent in the next month."

The question is whether any increase at the top of the Fasig-Tipton market, if it comes, would trickle down to the middle and lower reaches. Buyers at 2-year-olds sales are notoriously selective, and buy-back rates of 40 percent have become the norm.

Selectivity is here to stay, and, as always, there is bound to be a handful of stars in the 301-horse catalog who generate a lot of buzz - and bids. One of those "talking horses" is Hip No. 95, a Good and Tough-Two Foxie filly who sizzled in the Feb. 15 under-tack show with an eighth-mile time of 9.80 seconds.

In addition to horses with flashy workout times, there is likely to be some extra attention on juveniles from first-crop sires. One freshman sire who will be under the microscope is Fusaichi Pegasus, the 2000 Kentucky Derby winner who was later syndicated for a record valuation of about $60 million. He has four colts in the catalog. They are Hip No. 9, a son of Party Cited who sold as a weanling for $725,000 to John McCormack Bloodstock; Hip No. 62, a son of Sister Fromseattle who was a $230,000 sale yearling; Hip No. 229, a colt out of Hidden Storm, who brought $270,000 as a yearling; and Hip No. 260, a son of Li Law who has yet to sell publicly.

The single-session sale begins at 11 a.m. at Calder.

Back and forth with Dear Birdie

Pedigree students with an interest in the C. V. Whitney Stable's bloodlines might have noticed an interesting point about Dear Birdie's produce record. Dear Birdie, dam of 2003's 3-year-old filly champion, Bird Town, and Grade 1 winner Birdstone, hails from a Whitney female line, which was one of the reasons Whitney's widow, Marylou Whitney, bought the mare privately from Arkansas breeders Mr. and Mrs. James Winn in late 1992.

But Dear Birdie's produce record reveals that the mare actually changed hands briefly while still remaining in the Whitney's extended family. Her 2002 foal, a Pioneering colt named So Long Birdie, was bred by Leverett Miller, C. V. Whitney's nephew and the owner of T-Square Stud in Fairfield, Fla.

Marylou Whitney's husband, John Hendrickson, explained that Whitney gave Dear Birdie to Miller before Bird Town became a Grade 1 winner. After Dear Birdie foaled the Pioneering colt for Miller, he sent her to Silver Charm, planning to offer her for sale that November. But Whitney decided to buy her back privately. "It's all in the family," Hendrickson said. "We're happy whenever they have success, and when we have success, they're the first to call."

Fasig-Tipton has cataloged 301 juveniles to its Feb. 24 select juvenile sale at Calder Race Course. Here is a small sample of some of the catalog's most intriguing entries.

* Hip No. 9, a Fusaichi Pegasus colt out of graded stakes-winner Party Cited. This colt sold as a weanling for $725,000.

* Hip No. 95, a Good and Tough filly out of Two Foxie that blitzed an eighth-mile work in :09.80 at the Feb. 15 under-tack preview.

* Hip No. 116, a Storm Cat colt out of the stakes-placed Spectacular Bid mare Add. This colt is a half-brother to stakes-winner Inflate and the dam of Grade 2 winner Desert Hero.

* Hip No. 117, an El Prado filly out of stakes-winner A Dream Above, making her a full sister to graded winner and millionaire Nite Dreamer.

* Hip No. 129, an Unbridled's Song colt out of Archimillionnaire. This colt is a half-brother to Grade 3 winner Uanme and stakes-winner Be My Reply.

* Hip No. 136, a Silver Deputy colt who is the first foal out of dual Grade 1-placed Awful Smart.

* Hip No. 137, a Dixie Union colt out of Brazilian mare of the year Bandeira Nativa, from the family of millionaire Grade 2 winner Recoup the Cash.

* Hip No. 139, a Stravinsky half-brother to Read the Footnotes.

* Hip No. 149, a Mr. Greeley colt out of Brighter than Gold, a full brother to Grade 1 winner Nonsuch Bay.

* Hip No. 186, a Storm Cat colt out of champion Eliza, making him a full brother to Grade 2-placed Miss Doolittle.

* Hip No. 209, a Storm Creek colt out of stakes-winner Full Time Friend. He is a half-brother to Grade 1-placed stakes-winner Weekend Squall.

* Hip No. 229, a Fusaichi Pegasus colt who is the first foal for the Storm Cat mare Hidden Storm.

* Hip No. 234, a Forest Wildcat filly out of Hold to Fashion. This filly is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and $2 million earner Peace Rules and stakes-winner Wild Fashion.

* Hip No. 262, a filly from the first crop of Golden Missile and out of Little Peak. She is a half-sister to stakes-placed Diablo's Peak.

* Hip No. 272, a Rubiano--Magari colt who is a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Afto and two other stakes-placed runners.