05/18/2006 11:00PM

Spending a little more to make a lot more


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Buying yearlings to resell as 2-year-olds is a risky business, as any professional reseller, or "pinhooker," will quickly tell you. But sometimes the payoff is staggeringly good, as it was on May 16 for Ciaran Dunne, Mike Akers, and David Greathouse.

The three were partners in Hip No. 80 at the Barretts May sale in Pomona, Calif. When the bidding ended Tuesday at the Barretts May juvenile auction, the colt had raked in a sale-record $2.5 million. Dunne, Akers, and Greathouse had paid $190,000 for the Red Bullet-Sookloozy colt at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale.

"We were over budget, as usual, when he came up," Akers said. "But we've never let a little thing like being out of money keep us from bidding on a horse we like!

"He was a big, good-looking colt that stood over a lot of ground and looked like he might go on. He was by a first-crop sire who had won a classic, and he was a Cal-bred."

Said Dunne, who owns the Wavertree Stable agency in Ocala, Fla.: "What they want in California is a racehorse. They want to come back to the barn and see a big, strong horse they can train. They're willing to forgive a pedigree if the horse looks like he'll make them a racehorse."

The colt initially was a Barretts March candidate, but slightly sore shins kept him in reserve until May. When he breezed an eighth-mile in 9.60 seconds at the under-tack show, the audience included trainer Eoin Harty, a key member of Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley organization. Darley bought the colt for $2.5 million after fighting off rival Ahmed Zayat.

But, as Akers cautions, those home runs don't happen every day in a risky game where training stress or simple lack of talent can ruin a horse's profitability. That's why he and Dunne routinely buy 15 to 20 yearlings instead of focusing on a handful to resell.

"Spreading the risk is key for the yearling to 2-year-old game," he said. "If you go in there with three or four horses, you're playing Russian roulette until Mother Nature cuts you off at the knees."

Breeders accept retired racehorses

The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation has found some willing adopters for some of its horses: the horses' breeders. The racehorse rescue, retirement, and adoption group has long encouraged breeders to consider taking care of retirees they bred. Now they're contacting the breeders of some 1,300 horses in TRF care and asking whether the people who brought those horses into the world will sponsor their retirement. Sponsorship for a year is about $1,200, but can vary according to the horse's location.

One who readily accepted was Staci Hancock of Stone Farm in Paris, Ky. Hancock and her husband, Arthur, famously bought back their 1982 Kentucky Derby winner, Gato Del Sol, at the end of his stud career in Germany. Now they're also taking in Selznick, a son of Harlan they bred in partnership; he last raced in 2001 and is now with the TRF.

Another breeder stepping up to the plate is Marlene Brody of Gallagher's Stud in Ghent, N.Y.

"I think we all should feel a certain responsibility," she said.

Brody said she would like to see buyers donate $1 or more to a retirement fund every time they purchase a horse to help ensure ex-racehorses will have a place to go.

Some breeders and owners also have their own informal adoption programs. Kim Zito, wife of Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito, found a home for her former runner Mill Reef Affair, and the gelding is about to debut as a three-day eventer.

At Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable in Paris, Ky., horses that won't make it to the racetrack are found another home, said bloodstock and racing manager John Adger.

"It's usually one or two a year that don't make it into the racing stable," Adger said. He added that one ex-Stonerside runner, a Summer Squall gelding named Weatherman, is now a three-day competitor whose owners think he has high-level potential. Several others are polo ponies for McNair's son, Cary.

"I think most people who love horses are going to want to see them have a good home," Adger said. "We sure do. These horses mean a lot to everybody, and we need to do what we can for them."

Fast works at Timonium

Fasig-Tipton Midlantic's second under-tack show on Thursday produced some fast works for the preferred 2-year-old sale in Timonium, Md., on Tuesday and Wednesday.

A pair of juveniles covered an eighth-mile in the day's fastest time of 10.20 seconds. They were Hip No. 643, a Songandaprayer-Wild and Willing colt consigned by True South, agent, and Hip No. 647, a Gibson County-Winter Cat colt offered by McKathan Farms, agent.

The fastest time for a quarter was 21.40, shared by Hip No. 412, a Pine Bluff-Pen'n Pad colt, and Hip No. 615, a Dixieland Band-Two Step Trudy filly, both consigned by the Eisaman Equine agency.

Hip No. 379, a Johannesburg-Natkeeta filly consigned by True South, agent, had the fastest three-eighth-mile time of 33.80 seconds.