07/13/2006 11:00PM

Seeking that next pinhook home run

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The Fasig-Tipton Kentucky selected yearling sale on Monday and Tuesday kicks off the two months of selected yearling auctions. Among the many yearling pinhookers from Florida who buy at these sales are Ciaran and Amy Dunne, who do business as Wavertree Stable. Wavertree Stable had a banner year selling in the 2-year-old markets this year, including a $190,000 Red Bullet colt pinhooked at Barretts for $2.5 million, a Belong to Me colt sold at the Ocala Breeders' Sales March sale for $1.8 million, and a $1.2 million Indian Charlie colt sold at Fasig-Tipton.

Those sales were coups for Ciaran Dunne, an Irishman who began his equine experience at the bottom.

"My father, John, was a gardener at the Irish National Stud," said Dunne. "If you have ever been there, you know that the Irish National Stud is a remarkably beautiful place. Anyway, when the time came that I was old enough to work around the stud, I did just that. I worked the usual menial jobs, and you worked your way up the ladder."

Alumni of the Irish National Stud have various connections to Ocala, usually by way of Kentucky.

"I left Ireland to work in England," Dunne said. "Then I moved on to Kentucky and got a job with Margaux Stud." Margaux Stud is now Adena Springs North and the property of Frank Stronach. It was in Kentucky where Dunne established professional relationships with Steve Johnson, Niall O'Callaghan, Niall Brennan, and countless other horsemen, and it was in Louisville where he met his future wife, Amy, whose employment sheet includes Three Chimneys Farm.

The great Florida boom was well underway by the middle 90's. Prices for prime horse-suited acreage were rising exponentially. These new farms and training centers needed skilled workers and managers, and Kentucky was a ready source. The Dunnes relocated and went to work for Ocala's The Oaks. Next came an association with Francis and Barbara Vanlangendonck's Summerfield Sales, and subsequently for Eisaman Thoroughbreds. Summerfield Sales specializes in yearlings. Barry Eisaman, DVM, prefers to pinhook into the 2-year-old market.

After working with agents and pinhookers for several years, the Dunnes concluded they were ready to become professional pinhookers and sales agents. The man who encouraged them, according to Ciaran Dunne, is Ohio horse owner Darrell Sapp, who sent them a dozen horses a year to break and prepare for racing.

"I'd have a hard time telling you how many good people worked with us and invested with us as we were getting started," said Ciaran Dunne. "There's just too many of them. Mike Atkers of Dapple Bloodstock especially has been a great friend and business associate."

Wavertree Stable is part of a Thoroughbred training complex nine miles west of Ocala. Several operations within the community share the one-mile regulation dirt track with its seven-furlong turf course, and it is there that the Wavertree Stable pinhooks get their basic training and sales prep.

Dunne says his pinhooking modus operandi is to seek the ideal equine athlete. He starts by checking out every yearling in a sale. He does not look at the pedigree page until he has determined that the yearling has the physical right stuff and is suitable for pinhooking.

"Pedigree usually determines the price range 2-year-old buyers are willing to bid," Dunne said. "A yearling with athleticism and pedigree can bring any price as a 2-year-old in training if the horse looks the part on the track."

While Wavertree Stables hit a number of pinhooking home runs with last year's yearling purchases, Dunne is wary of overspending this year, as he fears the support level at the very top might well be leveling off.

"I think there is more opportunity to make money pinhooking midpriced yearlings," he said. "The average stable is not going to be bidding millions of dollars for 2-year-olds. I don't see our syndicates spending more than $200,000 for a yearling, but who knows?"