02/07/2003 1:00AM

Tabor, Gill biggest spenders at Calder auction


A record was set at the Ocala Breeders' Sales 2-year-olds in training sale at Calder Race Course Tuesday. Despite a modest decline in sales average and median from last year, Demi O'Byrne, agent for Michael Tabor, spent an OBS record $1.2 million for a Montbrook colt.

The sale had the second-highest average and median in the 20 years since the OBS began selling at Calder Race Course. The OBS cataloged 201 and sold 117, for an average of $108,829 and a median of $75,000. The average was off 5 percent from last year, and the median off 16 percent. The buy-back rate improved from 35 percent to 30 percent.

Ordinarily, a bid of $1.2 million with an additional buy of $100,000 would assure O'Byrne and Tabor the leading buyer title. Not so this time. Michael Gill, the nation's leading owner in wins, bought 25 colts and seven fillies for a total of $2.9 million. His 32 purchases accounted for 27 percent of the horses sold.

"I did not have any set amount to buy," said Gill, a New Hampshire mortgage banker. "You might say I was winging it."

Gill does not act alone. He had his team on the grounds looking, researching, and occasionally doing the bidding. Gill said he had a staff of seven at the sale.

When asked if he always got what he wanted, Gill smiled and said that he stops when the bidding gets out of hand. He cited Hip No. 26, a colt from the first crop of the graded stakes winner Doneraile Court.

"I was underbidder at $390,000," Gill said.

The colt went to Darley Racing Stable for $400,000 with John Ferguson signing the tab. Gill later bought Hip No. 132, another bay colt by Doneraile Court, for $130,000.

According to Gill, he seeks out those 2-year-olds who exude athleticism. "You don't come to a sale like this looking for classic pedigrees," he said. "You look for the horse that has the conformation and shows potential under tack."

Gill did just that when he bought Hip No. 114, a Maryland-bred colt by Two Punch out of a Storm Cat mare. There is no black-type in the colt's first three dams. But the colt had tied for fastest time of the sale, working a furlong in 10 seconds, and he looked the part. Gill got him for $165,000.

Meanwhile, O'Byrne said he did not expect to go to $1.2 million for his big buy, Hip No. 201. The bay son of Florida leading sire Montbrook was the "whisper" horse of the sale - the one that many felt was the potential sale topper.

"This is not the kind of a sale where you should have to pay that kind of money for a 2-year-old prospect." O'Byrne said. "But he is a beauty and he will go to Todd Pletcher to train."

The sale topper was the first horse ever to sell for more than a million at this annual auction. He was consigned by Mike O'Farrell's Ocala Stud. He is the first foal of a winning Cutlass mare who is supported by a strong black-type family.

Chasing O'Byrne in the bidding was the team of trainer Stan Hough and owner E.P. Robsham. "We tried," Hough said afterward with a trace of disappointment.

O'Byrne was the second-leading buyer at the sale, with two purchases for a total of $1.3 million. Robsham was third, buying four for $680,000, with Dogwood Stable fourth, buying six horses for $420,000.