08/11/2004 11:00PM

Team Valor bid snags $1.85 million colt

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Wednesday night found Roger King in a familiar position: standing in the doorway to Fasig-Tipton's bidding ring, cigarette in his mouth, trying to decide whether to bid again.

A Fasig-Tipton attendant was holding the door open for King, and so was auctioneer Walt Robertson. The price board showed $1.85 million, and inside the pavilion, the man who had made that last $50,000 bid sat bolt upright, hoping, frankly, that King would call it a night and head for the bar, or anywhere except back in the bidding ring.

But King lingered at the threshold, squinting down the pavilion aisle at Hip No. 84, a bay son of European champion Giant's Causeway and a three-quarter brother to Grade 2 winner Keats.

King's theatrical style has become a regular source of entertainment at the Saratoga sale. In 2001, he pulled a similar stunt during the bidding for Mister C's Song. He left the pavilion, seemingly in a huff, when Satish Sanan bid $1.8 million, and stood smoking in the doorway for a moment before returning to buy the colt for $1.85 million.

But this year, after examining the Giant's Causeway colt, King shook his head.

"Are you sure?" asked auctioneer Walt Robertson, preparing to hammer the colt down to Barry Irwin of Team Valor.

"No, I'm not sure," King said loudly.

But King finally did walk away from the bidding for good, and Irwin, whose rivals also included Sunland Park owner Stan Fulton, got the receipt for the night's highest-priced yearling.

As at Tuesday's opener, there was only a single seven-figure lot at the Wednesday session, and the overall session figures slipped from last year. Through Wednesday, the 2004 auction had sold 100 lots for $28,735,000, down 16 percent from last year at the same point, when 103 horses sold. The two-day average price of $287,350 was down 13 percent from last year, and the $220,000 median was off by 12 percent. Buybacks climbed from 21 percent to 23 percent for both sessions.

But with some of the most anticipated yearlings set to sell at the final session on Thursday night, Fasig-Tipton officials didn't seem unduly worried about the market, which sellers generally described as healthy but selective.

The only other yearling to come close to the $1 million mark was a $900,000 Grand Slam-Bisbee colt that Fulton bought from Three Chimneys, agent. Fulton also bought a $500,000 Unbridled's Song-Appealing Nany colt from Four Star Sales; a $400,000 Saint Ballado-Eye Catching colt from the Bluewater Sales; and a $325,000 Saint Ballado-Garden Spot colt from Taylor Made.

Barry Irwin was actually a surprising combatant in the bidding for Hip No. 84. As a principal in Team Valor's public syndication program, he is in much the same position as pinhookers who buy yearlings for resale as 2-year-olds: He can't often justify paying retail prices for a yearling he has to repackage to investors. But Irwin had come to the conclusion that Team Valor, which most often has bought less expensive horses or proven runners in foreign markets, would have to pay to play in the big leagues.

"Here's why I bought it," he told the reporters that mobbed him after the purchase. "Two reasons: One, I can't find a racehorse to buy in this country anymore. Today I offered $1.2 million for a horse that broke its maiden with an 81 Beyer [Speed Figure] at Delaware, and I couldn't even buy that. I have guys that want to have a horse that's going to be a Triple Crown horse. The only shot we've got is to find one at a sale like this.

"This horse, even though he's by Giant's Causeway, looks like a dirt horse. He's the best-looking yearling I've seen in five or 10 years, and I just figured, what the hell, if we're going to try to come up with a Triple Crown type of horse, I'm just going to go for it."

Gainesway Farm, acting as agent for the colt's breeders - Dr. Chuck Kidder, Dr. John Griggs, and Jim and Jason Mamakos - consigned the colt. It was the brightest moment in a golden run for the Lexington farm, which is owned by Graham Beck.

Gainesway's run at the sale's first two days also featured a $900,000 Kingmambo-Sweet and Ready filly that Narvick International bought for Japanese interests; a $200,000 Smoke Glacken-Ruby Glows colt that Barry Schwartz's agent, Buzz Chace, signed for; and several other lots in the $130,000-$185,000 range that resellers bought.

Gainesway's two-day returns indicated that, even though the sale hadn't sparked any fireworks through Wednesday, there was breadth to the market as both resellers and "end-users" found yearlings to buy.

Among the end-users was John Servis, the trainer of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones. Servis, representing Fox Hill Farm, bought a $460,000 Unbridled's Song-Clever Monique colt, a half-brother to Grade 1 winner and sire Yes It's True. Taylor Made, agent, consigned the colt.

Prices like that made selling look easy, but for consignors with middle-market horses or with upper-market horses that weren't physically flawless, buyers could be stingy.

"The sixes, if they vet fine, they sell great," consignor John Stuart said, referring to high-scoring horses on the Fasig-Tipton selection team's rating system. "If you have a five or a five-plus with a problem, there's more of a limit this year here at Saratoga than there may have been in the past. There's no question it's a really discerning market, despite the fact that everyone thinks it's a great market."