10/23/2002 11:00PM

These Juveniles contenders have big price tags


LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Coolmore's handsome colt Van Nistelrooy will make his first public appearance in America in more than 13 months. When last we saw him, the flashy son of Storm Cat and the Halo mare Halory was selling for $6.4 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale on Sept. 12, 2001. The colt was scheduled to sell the preceding day, but Keeneland postponed selling due to the terrorist attacks.

The crimes in the larger world did not stop yearling buyers during the first few days of Keeneland September sale last year, as they bought 20 yearlings colts for $1 million or more.

But even in that context, Van Nistelrooy was a landmark colt. Bred by Stonerside Stable, he brought the highest price for a yearling in 2001 because of his good looks and conformation, as well as his outstanding pedigree. By the most successful commercial sire in the world, Van Nistelrooy is a half-brother to four stakes winners and two stakes-placed horses.

Furthermore, between 1985 and 2000, no American yearling had sold for more than $4 million, and for much of that period, no yearling approached half that sum. Yet in 2000 and 2001, a half-dozen yearlings sold for more than $4 million, and Van Nistelrooy ranks second only to the Storm Cat son Tasmanian Tiger, for whom Coolmore paid $6.8 million in 2000. Due to international turmoil and serious uncertainty in the national economy, yearling prices this year have returned to the level of a few years ago, with a high price of $3.1 million for a Storm Cat colt out of Tacha. And, yes, he sold to Coolmore.

Money may not buy you love, but it can buy darned near anything else, if only you have enough. And this year's entrants to the Juvenile illustrate this in no uncertain terms. Five of them changed hands at public auction for more than $1 million, and three others passed the half-million mark at auction.

One of those million-dollar babies from September, the Storm Cat colt Marino Marini, who brought $1.8 million, did not draw into the big event.

Although Sky Mesa brought "only" $750,000 at last year's September sale, the son of Pulpit is one of the unbeaten colts in the Juvenile, and has run the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any entrant.

Hold That Tiger has won three of his four starts, and is yet another son of Storm Cat in this championship event. What better indication of the reason for Storm Cat's success can be found than his consistent representation at the highest level of competition? And that promise of high performance from his best stock is what led Coolmore to pay $1.1 million for Hold That Tiger as a weanling at the Keeneland November sale in 2000. The powerful chestnut looked like a champion when from last to first in the Group 1 Grand Criterium at Longchamp. That victory makes him one of the most serious horses in this group.

Another of last year's top-priced colts is unbeaten Vindication. The dark son of Seattle Slew and the Strawberry Road mare Strawberry Reason sold for $2.15 million at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale to Padua Stable.

Another son of Seattle Slew brought even more money last year. Tomahawk, out of the Pancho Villa mare Statuette, was one of the highlights of last year's Keeneland July sale, selling for $2.5 million to Coolmore. Tomahawk would have been heavily fancied for this race but for finishing second in two Group 1's in his last two starts.

Fasig-Tipton's February sale of 2-year-olds in training at Calder also produced a pair of entrants in Kafwain ($720,000), who won the Norfolk Stakes narrowly over Bull Market, and Zavata ($575,000), who won the Saratoga Special and Tremont and was once more highly regarded than Whywhywhy.

Whywhywhy is the Juvenile's biggest bargain. Purchased privately at Keeneland September after being bought back at $27,000, Whywhywhy was resold privately to Fabien Oaki and Patrick Biancone before the 2-year-old in training sales this spring.