08/06/2003 11:00PM

Sanan buys $2.7 million Derby dream


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Satish Sanan came to the Saratoga select yearling auction with one thing in mind: to buy a Kentucky Derby horse. Sanan is a serious market force who can bid millions on a horse he wants badly enough. But he also knows first-hand that racing's gods are whimsical.

Sanan has brushed against the Derby roses twice, first when he was underbidder on the $4 million yearling who became 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, and, more tantalizingly, with his 2002 juvenile champion Vindication, who fell off the 2003 Derby trail with a suspensory injury.

So when Sanan saw Hip No. 136, a handsome and correct son of 1990 Derby winner Unbridled in Stone Farm's consignment, he wasn't inclined to let him get away for lack of another bid. On Wednesday night, at the three-day auction's second session, Sanan fought off underbidder B. Wayne Hughes and paid the night's top price of $2.7 million to secure the colt and, he hopes, a shot in the 2005 Derby.

The $2.7 million colt was the highlight of a second consecutive night of strong selling that boosted Fasig-Tipton's bottom line. Through Wednesday, the sale had sold 103 horses for $33,987,000, up 48 percent from last year's first two nights. The two-day average stood at $329,971, a 30 percent improvement over last year, and median was up 28 percent to $250,000. The two-day buyback rate was 21 percent, as compared to 32 percent last year.

The session-topper came as no surprise. A son of the stakes-winning Lord at War mare Words of War, he is a half-brother to major stakes winner E Dubai and to Grade 1 winner No Matter What. He also is one of the late Unbridled's last yearlings.

"To be honest, this was our number one colt of the sale," Sanan said.

Sanan bid early to catch his bid-spotter's eye, then sat back to watch as the colt's price leaped past $1 million in $100,000 increments.

Other bidders, including Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's representative John Ferguson, gradually fell away, leaving the battle to Sanan and Hughes, who were separated by just a few yards in the pavilion.

Curiously, few in the crowd had actually seen Sanan bid, and most attention focused mistakenly on Ferguson, who was seated in a row between Hughes and Sanan. When the gavel fell, someone in the row ahead turned to shake Ferguson's hand, which added to the misapprehension that Ferguson had bought the $2.7 million colt. Slipping out of the pavilion, Sanan ran into the colt's consignor, Arthur Hancock III, who was on his way to thank Ferguson for the purchase.

"Well, I'll be darned," Hancock said, when Sanan's daughter Nadia set him straight. "Thank you very much! He's going to be a nice horse for you."

Hughes showed no regrets.

"I went further than I planned, but I knew that colt would be expensive," Hughes said. "But, no, it's not painful. Remember: we've still got our money."

Sanan has felt that way before, most notably when he let Fusao Sekiguchi outbid him for Fusaichi Pegasus. That colt, like Wednesday's session-topper, was bred by Hancock and Stonerside Stable.

"We pulled up bidding on Fusaichi Pegasus, and we pulled up on E Dubai," Sanan said. "You make mistakes, and I regret that. This sale, we came to buy a couple of Derby horses."

Better than Vindication?

To everyone's surprise, one horse that wasn't on Sanan's short list was Hip No. 107, an A.P. Indy-Strawberry Reason colt who is a three-quarter-brother to Sanan's Vindication. The muscular colt drew a great deal of attention both from buyers and from the tourists who crowded around the walking ring to see him before he entered the ring. But Sanan wasn't worried he had let one pass by.

"Our team's consensus was that he was a nice horse, but he wasn't our top pick," he said. "And we knew the expectations of Mrs. Payson would be very high."

Breeder Virginia Kraft Payson, who sold Vindication to Sanan for $2.15 million at this auction in 2001, did have high expectations for her A.P. Indy colt, and so did everyone else. Auctioneer Walt Robertson boldly asked for $3 million before taking a first bid of $500,000. But the $1.9 million hammer price was below Payson's reserve, prompting a flurry of deal-making back at the Taylor Made agency, which had consigned the colt. Within 30 minutes, trainer Patrick Biancone slipped into the seat next to Payson and struck a private partnership deal that will include Payson as an owner. Biancone later signed the receipt, making him the buyer of record at $1.9 million.

"I've wanted to be involved with this colt from the start," Payson said. "We felt from the very beginning that this colt was a little bit ahead of Vindication at every stage. Patrick Biancone trained for me in France, and I had excellent success there with him. He's a terrific trainer, and I think this colt will be in very good hands going forward.

"I used to have dreams about Vindication, and I never dream about horses," she added. "I really thought he would be our Triple Crown horse in 2003. And we feel that this horse could be better than Vindication."

Outside the pavilion, a man who has already won a Kentucky Derby was bemused by such expensive intrigue. Jackson Knowlton, managing partner of the Sackatoga Stable partnership, which owns Funny Cide, was having a beer and swapping Triple Crown tales with local breeder (and Funny Cide's yearling consignor) Joe McMahon when Payson's $1.9 million colt went through the ring.

"When you can get a $75,000 New York-bred that wins the Derby and the Preakness, why would you ever pay more than $100,000 for a horse?" he said.

Why, indeed. For Biancone and Sanan, it was a mix of careful analysis and unreasoning desire. Biancone's expression melted into sentimentality when he tried to describe it.

"I am very much in love," he said. "I think this horse is more powerful than his brother, to be honest with you. I trained Strawberry Reason's sire, Strawberry Road, and this colt has a lot of him in him, a lot of that power. Now the pressure's on me."