08/28/2003 11:00PM

Strath hopes good horses at sales offset poor crops

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Breeders and buyers in southern Ontario are anxiously waiting for this week's Fasig-Tipton sale of Canadian-bred yearlings, which begins Tuesday with a select session and continues with open sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Fasig-Tipton is fresh off a strong Saratoga summer sale, and locals hope the trend will continue at Woodbine's annual auction. The selected portion gets under way at 1 p.m.

On Monday, six yearlings sales stakes, worth $125,000 each, will showcase bloodlines that will be found in the 463-horse catalog.

Gary Strath is just seven years into breeding his own horses on his Stonyfield Farm near Brandon, Manitoba. He is the breeder of Simcoe Yearling Sales Stakes contender Winter Whiskey, a 2-year-old son of Whiskey Wisdom out of his good mare Song of the North. Tuesday, he will sell a filly by Bold n' Flashy from his Chief's Crown mare Destiny Awaits. He also has three yearlings in the upcoming Keeneland September yearling auction.

"I would be elated if Winter Whiskey does well," said Strath.

Strath's farm comprises 2,000 acres, of which 1,200 are wheat, oat, and canola crops.

"It's been a terrible year for the crops," said Strath, who blames the drought in western Canada and an infestation of grasshoppers for the damage.

But some good luck with the horses in the upcoming weeks could give Strath something to smile about.

Winter Whiskey was a $20,000 yearling purchase by Ten Goal Racing Stable and partner. The colt won his career debut on Aug. 9 and earned a 75 Beyer Figure.

"He was a very calm and collected foal, nothing fazed him," said Strath. "I was hoping to get more for him, but sometimes you have to take a lesser amount and hope for the breeders' awards."

Dr. Ross McKague, a longtime owner and breeder from Manitoba, purchased Song of the North on behalf of Strath at the 1997 Keeneland November breeding stock sale for $19,000 in foal to Supremo. A daughter of It's Freezing, Song of the North has produced 10 foals in succession and has seven winners, including stakes-placed Western Melody.

The mare's yearling colt by Skywalker sells at Keeneland on Sept. 19.

Destiny Awaits was bred by Stavros Niarchos and was placed on the track. Strath purchased her for $11,000 in foal to Acceptable. Her first two foals to race include 2-year-old Patient Patty, who is stakes placed.

Strath's first taste of the racing business came in a partnership with McKague before pursuing his own business in 1996. He selects all of the mates for his mares himself.

His first good homebred was Dawn of Forever, winner of the Buffalo and R. C. Anderson Stakes at Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg.

"We all look for the Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer cross but I also like new stallions," said Strath. "I try to breed to new stallions because they are often in my price range."

Strath hopes to become more involved in the Ontario sires stakes program in upcoming years and would eventually like to sell his crops and buy more mares.

"Right now I can't do that though," said Strath. "My wife said if I bought more horses there would be a murder in the family."

A sampling of sires in catalog

Leading sires Carson City, Langfuhr, Silver Deputy, Smart Strike, and Tale of the Cat are represented by yearlings in the Woodbine sale. Ontario sires are also well represented as Alydeed, Archers Bay, Ascot Knight, Bold Executive, Bold n' Flashy, Canyon Creek, Crown Attorney, Highland Ruckus, Kiridashi, Tethra, and Whiskey Wisdom account for 200 of the hip numbers.

The select and open sessions of the sale both realized increases in average last year, thanks in part to vacation giveaways and trainer bonuses by the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society.

Buyers at this year's sale will be entered in draws for a cruise on the Queen Elizabeth II or a racing trip to France.