01/15/2004 12:00AM

Young's determination created a star


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The death of William T. Young at age 85 in Florida on Monday stirred up a lot of good stories about a man generally regarded as one of the shrewdest - and most gracious - businessmen the Thoroughbred game has known. Some of the best stories about Young involve his faith in the stallion Storm Cat, and few people can tell that story better than Ric Waldman.

Waldman first started working for Young's Overbrook Farm in Lexington as a consultant 17 years ago, and he remembers Storm Cat's early days well. A Storm Bird colt, Storm Cat had a creditable race record: He won the Grade 1 Young America at 2, was second that season in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in a close race against Tasso, and ended his career after two seasons with more than $570,000 in earnings. As a son of the Secretariat mare Terlingua, he also had a marketable pedigree. But Storm Cat wasn't supposed to be the star at Young's new Overbrook stallion operation. The star was supposed to be Grand Canyon.

Young bought Grand Canyon, a Fappiano-Champagne Ginny colt, for $825,000 and sent him to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, for whom he debuted in June 1989. Grand Canyon won half of his eight starts at 2, including a pair of Grade 1 events, and his combined winning margin in those four victories was 20 1/2 lengths. Lukas and the people at Overbrook considered him a major force with huge potential at stud.

"Grand Canyon was one of the most exciting 2-year-olds in my memory, and the farm was trying to set up and prepare for his eventual retirement," Waldman recalled. "Little did we know, a few months later, he'd be dead."

At the end of his juvenile season, Grand Canyon developed laminitis, and the painful disease finally required Overbrook to have the colt euthanized. The farm now looked to Storm Cat as its flagship stallion.

"In spite of the devastating blow of losing one of the most promising stallion prospects in recent memory, Mr. Young was not the type to dwell on the past," Waldman said.

Young picked up the phone and started encouraging breeders to send their mares to Storm Cat, who was not at the top of many breeders' lists.

"We did everything short of begging," said Waldman. "We had to be fairly creative in trying to get Storm Cat past his first four years, when his progeny could finally do the talking.

"His conformation didn't leave the most favorable impression. Now, we're more forgiving of that, because we see that those conformation traits we were so critical of have gone on to get good racehorses. No one knew then that they were looking at the prototype that would end up with those runners."

Storm Cat was injured and started only twice at 3. Overbrook unsuccessfully attempted to bring him back at 4, and the horse didn't stand at stud until he was 5.

"So there was a long time between his top performances and when he retired," Waldman said. "He was a difficult horse to create a following for."

But Young managed it, approving free breeding seasons for mares he thought could really help his young stallion and taking foal-share deals on others. Now, Storm Cat perennially is one of the leading sires in the world. That kind of business success undoubtedly pleased Young, but Waldman noted that Overbrook Farm meant more to its owner than financial numbers.

"He'd be the first to tell you he was not a horseman," Waldman said, "but he thoroughly enjoyed the farm. He enjoyed the farm's creation, and he enjoyed his time on it. It was a real charge for Mr. Young to come out here and associate with all the people that work on the farm. He enjoyed the staff meetings we had, and he liked to challenge us. There is a great deal of W.T. Young the businessman involved in this farm, but there is also a lot of W.T. Young the landowner and the builder."