11/02/2006 12:00AM

Saylor's hunch becomes a revelation

Email

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Paul Saylor just chuckles when people tell him what a shrewd purchase he made when he bought the then minor stakes winner Fleet Indian for $290,000 last January. He was simply looking for a broodmare prospect to breed to his Grade 1 winner Purge. That he was buying a potential future champion was the farthest thing from his mind.

"My anticipation at that time was she is a New York-bred, she can run a little bit, let's see if we can get some New York-bred stakes in her this year," Saylor said. "If she does well, I'll breed her to Purge. That was the initial thought."

It didn't take long for those thoughts to change.

Now, instead of pointing Fleet Indian to the $65,000 Montauk Handicap for New York-breds at Aqueduct on Nov. 26, Saylor is at Churchill Downs this week as the owner of the favorite for the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. Only two years ago, Saylor was part owner of Ashado, who won the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park en route to being crowned 3-year-old filly champion.

"I never would have envisioned having another good horse, male or female, anywhere close to Ashado," said Saylor, 64, who heads two real estate banking and investment firms with offices in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

It would be hard to suggest that Fleet Indian is as good as Ashado, who won 11 graded stakes, earned $3.9 million, and was a two-time champion. But Fleet Indian has been flawless in her 5-year-old season, winning all six of her races, including the Grade 1 Personal Ensign and Grade 1 Beldame. Overall, she has won eight consecutive races, a streak that began in the Montauk last Nov. 27 at Aqueduct.

Two months after watching Ashado sell for $9 million at the Keeneland horses of all ages sale, held two days after the Breeders' Cup, Saylor attended the January sale at Keeneland when a horse caught his eye from a distance.

"I was bungling along at the January sales having no focus whatsoever when I saw her," Saylor said of Fleet Indian, a New York-bred daughter of Indian Charlie. "I said, 'Who's that?' She's certainly not a new yearling, certainly not a broodmare. I pulled her charts and saw that Edgar Prado and John Velazquez had ridden her 10 or 12 times."

At the time, Fleet Indian had won 7 of 12 starts for owner Stan Fulton. Jimmy Toner had been Fleet Indian's trainer for the first 11 races of her career. Fulton moved her to Clifford Sise Jr. at Philadelphia Park because Toner was going to Florida, and Fulton didn't want to send her there.

After Fleet Indian won an allowance race at Philadelphia Park on Dec. 30, Fulton said he was advised to sell her.

"I've got a couple of agents that assist me with my horses," Fulton said. "They thought we should sell her, and that's what I did. It's very simple. Life goes on. You can't look back. You look back you get yourself in trouble."

Saylor called trainer Todd Pletcher, who found out from Toner that Fleet Indian was being sold as a broodmare prospect, though Toner felt she still had some racing left in her. Saylor said his final bid of $290,000 was as high as he planned to go.

"It's surprising the number of people that have come up to me and said they were the underbidder," Saylor said.

Fleet Indian was sent to Pletcher's Belmont Park barn in the winter. Pletcher had a bevy of older filly and mare prospects, including Bohemian Lady, who was dominating the open stakes during Aqueduct's inner track. Bohemian Lady was being pointed to the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap on March 25, but developed a foot bruise. Fleet Indian took her place and won by a length. Pletcher then pointed her to the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne, and Fleet Indian rolled to a 12 1/2-length victory. She earned eye-popping speed figures in those races, including a 112 Beyer Speed Figure in the Sixty Sails.

"The thing that stood out was after the Next Move," Pletcher said. "We usually get the [speed figures], and it was, 'Wow, that was a pretty serious race.' Once she repeated that in the Sixty Sails, it was pretty clear she was capable of competing with anyone."

According to Saylor, Pletcher offered to buy Fleet Indian from him for three times what he paid. Saylor said thanks, but no thanks.

"Having him that impressed over that performance was a validation over how well she ran," Saylor said. "I started thinking bigger thoughts."

The plan was the $1 million Delaware Handicap in July. Fleet Indian won the prep for that, the Obeah, then rolled to a 5 1/2-length victory in the Del Cap as the 2-5 favorite. The bar was raised again.

Fleet Indian was supposed to get a severe test in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign at Saratoga, but the Personal Ensign came up a paceless affair and Fleet Indian waltzed around the track as the lone speed, beating the late-running Balletto by 4 1/4 lengths.

"The Personal Ensign was ridiculous," Saylor said. "That was the craziest race of the year as far as I'm concerned. They let her go, and she went as slow as she possibly could."

In thinking ahead to the Breeders' Cup, Saylor said he was somewhat concerned that Fleet Indian was having things too easy. That changed in the Beldame, when Fleet Indian broke slowly and had to prove she could be successful from off the pace. She did, rallying four wide turning for home and holding off a challenge from Balletto to earn the win by a head.

"All she had this year were basically easy races," Saylor said. "To have to work to get the Beldame sets her up much better for the Breeders' Cup than she was otherwise."

A victory in the Distaff would cement the older and filly mare title for Fleet Indian and push her 2006 earnings to more than $2.6 million and her career earnings to almost $2.9 million. Now, instead of breeding Fleet Indian to Purge, Saylor will sell her at Monday's Keeneland sale. Fleet Indian is Hip No. 85.

According to two bloodstock agents, Fleet Indian's value is estimated at $4 million. Those same agents believe a Distaff victory could increase her value to around $7 million.

It was at last year's Keeneland that Saylor and partners Jack and Laurie Wolf and Johns Martin sold Ashado for $9 million.

"Ashado was a little more gut-wrenching because we owned her for three years," Saylor said. "I'm about as equally attached to Fleet Indian just because I owe her. She'll be sold to somebody who'll give her as good a home as Ashado has or she won't be sold."

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain Oakford