09/16/2005 12:00AM

Sale ring's heaviest hitter

Rick Waldman at Overbrook Farm on Friday with Storm Cat, who had 22 yearlings sell at Keeneland's select session for an average of more than $2 million.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - When it comes right down to it, one big engine drove Keeneland's September select yearling market to record heights: Storm Cat.

The 22-year-old Overbrook Farm stallion was already the world's most fashionable stallion before Keeneland's two select days on Monday and Tuesday. But the extent of his popularity in the waning years of his career was on spectacular display. Twenty-two of his yearlings sold during the select sessions, and they realized a combined $44,625,000 for a staggering average price of $2,028,409. Leading the pack was the third-highest-priced yearling to sell at public auction, a $9.7 million son of Tranquility Lake that Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum purchased from Marty and Pam Wygod (Mill Ridge, agent). Also on the list: a $6.3 million son of Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status that was consigned by Lane's End and bought by Maktoum.

These results follow similar prices for Storm Cat offspring at previous September sales: $8 million for a son of Welcome Surprise last year, $6.8 million for Tasmanian Tiger in 2000, $6.4 million for Van Nistelrooy in 2001, and the list goes on.

The only other sires to top Storm Cat's average for a single select yearling auction, at either the Keeneland September sale or at the now-defunct Keeneland July auction, were the great Northern Dancer, who averaged $3,446,666 for 12 lots in 1984 and $2,477,500 in 1983 (both times at Keeneland July) and Northern Dancer's son Nijinsky II, whose nine yearlings sold in July of 1985 averaged $2,969,444, thanks largely to Seattle Dancer's world-record price of $13.1 million.

Storm Cat himself actually averaged more at Keeneland July in 2002, when he hit $2,096,667. But that was achieved with only three yearlings sold, making his 2002 average less impressive than his average at the 2005 September sale, which showed how remarkably consistent the demand is for his yearlings even when there are plenty to choose from in the catalog.

"As far as their impact on the market, yes, they are similar," said Ric Waldman, who manages Storm Cat for the Young family's Overbrook Farm, comparing Storm Cat to Northern Dancer. "As far as their creating heated bidding duels, yes, Storm Cat is unlike anything we've seen in the interim since Northern Dancer.

"Northern Dancer's rise as a dominant yearling sire also mirrored the rise in the market of the late 1970's into the mid-1980's. Storm Cat's success has mirrored solid growth from the early 1990's to the present, mainly at the top of the market."

One person with a special connection to the market in the 1980's, and who is partly responsible for Storm Cat's presence today, is bloodstock adviser Tom Gentry. Gentry bred Storm Cat's dam, Terlingua, and had great success selling Northern Dancer-line yearlings in the 1980's. He agreed that the two sires are similar.

"It's kind of like choosing between a Rolls Royce and a Bentley," Gentry said. "They're both just the top. And Storm Cat is only 22, so he still has a lot of spark left in his tank. But after 25, it can go fast. But he's already at the top of the game. His sons are priceless."

Storm Cat's chief attraction, Waldman said, "is his ability to sire successful sons who have made a major impact in the stallion ranks," the most obvious example today being the popular Giant's Causeway.

Storm Cat has stood for a $500,000 fee for the last several years, and Waldman said Overbrook has not yet determined whether that will go up in 2006.

The venerable stallion's fashionable status is a far cry from his first season at stud back in 1988. The late W. T. Young, who raced Storm Cat and retired him to his Overbrook Farm, had trouble interesting commercial breeders, even though Storm Cat, a son of Storm Bird, hailed from the Northern Dancer stud line, was out of the star Secretariat mare Terlingua, and had won the Grade 1 Young America Stakes and finished

second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at 2. Although Young initially advertised Storm Cat with a $30,000 fee, he finally resorted to giving seasons away.

"They're spirited, and that's probably their most significant trait," Waldman said of Storm Cat's progeny. "They have high energy levels, competitiveness, heart."

And, Waldman said, they appear to be getting better and better.

"I think breeders, especially those who have over the years selected mares specifically to go to Storm Cat, are very careful when spending that kind of money to breed something to him that will complement him," he said. "They're breeding mares with size, scope, and good knees. I think that's part of why we saw such a number of really good looking yearlings by him at this sale."

Like Northern Dancer, Storm Cat is responsible for his own rise, in that his progeny have proven talented. But also like Northern Dancer, Storm Cat's desirability as a sire of sale yearlings has a lot to do with Coolmore Stud and the Maktoum family. In the 1980's, the Coolmore triumvirate of John Magnier, Robert Sangster, and Vincent O'Brien clashed with Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum and his brothers over Northern Dancer yearlings ultimately destined to race and stand primarily in Europe. These days, Coolmore's Magnier and Michael Tabor are dueling the Maktoums, and mainly Sheikh Mohammed, for Storm Cats to campaign and to breed in both Europe and the United States. But the effect has been much the same as it was in the 1980's: to raise a stallion's commercial value to astounding levels.

Coolmore has put an extra twist on the Storm Cat story. In 1999, Young sold Coolmore an undisclosed number of lifetime breeding rights to Storm Cat, a shrewd move that allowed him to cash out on part of the horse while guaranteeing that Coolmore would do a lot to help the horse's value stay high. And Coolmore has done so. Coolmore routinely bids high for Storm Cat progeny - it was the underbidder on Tuesday's $9.7 million colt - and its own global stud operation is well stocked with his progeny, notably the promising young sire Giant's Causeway. Coolmore bids aggressively for yearlings by those stallions, too, a factor that keeps those studs' yearling averages high and adds luster to Storm Cat's reputation both as a sire and as that most sought-after commodity: a sire of sires.

The knowledge that Storm Cat is aging and inevitably will leave the stage may have quickened bidders' tastes for his yearlings this September. But with major racehorse owners around the globe eager to acquire his remaining foals, and with such sons as Giant's Causeway off to a sparkling start at stud and in the auction ring, Storm Cat's influence seems assured for years to come.