03/03/2006 12:00AM

Risk defines story of $16 million colt

The $16 million Forestry colt, working at Fasig-Tipton's under-tack preview on Feb. 19, was originally purchased for $425,000 at last year's Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale.

MIAMI - On Wednesday morning, the day after he and partner Randy Hartley had sold their world-record $16 million Forestry-Magical Masquerade colt to Coolmore Stud at Fasig-Tipton's Calder auction, Dean De Renzo insisted that it wasn't so much about the money.

"The great thing for us is that they had that much confidence in us and our judgment," De Renzo said. "It's like they gave us a trophy that says, 'We believe in you.' That they trusted our opinion, that feels better than anything in the world."

But for the rest of the Thoroughbred world, the $16 million sale was very much about the money. It was the ultimate sign that the juvenile sales have completed their 20-year transformation from a market afterthought to a glittering showcase.

Hartley and De Renzo bought the Forestry colt themselves at last year's Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale, paying $425,000 for him. At the time, the purchase price was a substantial risk for a pair that wanted to resell at a profit just seven months later. But that kind of gamble is becoming more common among select juvenile pinhookers.

"All the way home, Dean kept saying to me, 'Do you think we gave too much?' " Hartley said. "I didn't want him to feel that buyer's remorse, and I kept telling him, 'I think this one will really run.' We did really good with a Forestry colt at this sale last year, and this colt was so much superior to that one when I bought him as a yearling.

"When I looked at him, I thought he'd bring a lot of money. It's hard to explain. It's not one particular thing. It wasn't just that he had good bone or perfect balance, it's that he was the whole package, and when you saw him, you just said, 'Wow.' He's what we like to buy: athletic, strong, sharp-looking horses."

De Renzo and Hartley have been a yearling-to-juvenile reselling team since 1992, long enough to have seen the 2-year-old market transformed. Two-year-old auctions used to be sales of last resort for breeders still holding horses that had failed to reach their reserve at the yearling sales. Now the select juvenile sales rival the select yearling auctions as recognized sources of quality racehorses.

Hartley and De Renzo haven't just seen that transformation. They've also helped make it possible.

Professional resellers - known as pinhookers - specifically sought yearlings with potential, not just culls, to resell as 2-year-olds. That upgraded the 2-year-old market's quality. Sale grads started winning big races, buyers came flocking, and pinhookers made profits, which they then plowed back into better-bred yearling inventory.

"I think what a world record does for consignors is make people aware that good horses come from 2-year-old sales," said De Renzo. "We're just as competitive in the yearling sales as anybody else trying to buy a good racehorse."

It wasn't long before Hartley and De Renzo figured out they had bought a fast one in the Forestry colt. In his first breeze, at Fasig-Tipton's under-tack preview on

Feb. 19, he zipped an eighth in 9.80 seconds, to the amazement of everyone, including his rider.

"She said she just hung on," Hartley said. "She said she didn't even smooch to him. He came around the turn, and they all said he went so light you couldn't even hear him hit the ground. I've watched that video about a hundred times, and he looks like he was fixing to take off in the air, like an airplane."

But now that he has a $16 million price tag, Hartley and De Renzo say they're happy to let someone else take on the pressure of training their star pupil.

But what makes such a staggering price as $16 million even possible in today's Thoroughbred economy? One answer: large stallion books. When Coolmore bought the Forestry colt, it essentially paid what a stallion farm would expect to pay for a good stallion prospect at the end of his racing career. It's a gamble, but it's one Coolmore apparently can afford to take. The global commercial breeding conglomerate, which has farms in Ireland, Kentucky, and Australia, routinely breeds enormous books of mares to its popular stallions in each hemisphere, generating tens of millions in stud fees. Giant's Causeway alone, for example, covered 244 mares in the Northern Hemisphere last season at a stud fee that started at $150,000 early in the season and was raised later to $200,000. With that kind of asset working for it, Coolmore has money to play with, and, it seems, it's willing to pay a lot early on for a colt it thinks might become the next Giant's Causeway in its lineup, if only to avoid having to buy him privately later at a much higher price from someone else's stable.

If he does become the next Giant's Causeway, the Forestry colt could repay his purchase price in spades - provided, in the circular nature of the Thoroughbred industry, that Thoroughbred sale prices, which influence stud fees, stay strong in future years.

Right now, Hartley and De Renzo like the Forestry colt's chances.

"This horse is an awesome horse," said Hartley. "He's done everything we asked. He's a cool horse. He can work an eighth in nine and change, and when he comes back he's not even blowing. Last night after he sold, he came right back to his stall and started eating hay. He's a class act, and I think his attitude with his ability is what everybody loved. From the time we bought him and took him home and turned him out, I knew he could run."