Continued from part 1

A TEAM EFFORT

Hartley and De Renzo, who operate a farm near Ocala, consigned the most expensive horse at OBS in March for the second consecutive year. In 2000, they sold D'wildcat (by Forest Wildcat) for $600,000, which then was a record for a juvenile offered at any OBS sale. That mark was shattered earlier this year, when an Irish River colt, consigned by Mark Casse, brought $900,000 at the OBS February select sale at Calder Race Course.

But sale records were not on Hartley and De Renzo's minds last September while they were trying to find a few pinhooking prospects among the thousands of yearlings offered at Keeneland. Hartley spotted the Dehere ridgling for the first time less than an hour before he went in the sale ring on the auction's third day.

Produced from the Gilded Time mare Sweet Gold, the handsome youngster was consigned by the Bettersworth family's Westwind Farm near Bowling Green, Ky. He was tucked away in a barn with yearlings that were scheduled to be offered in a later session.

"I was in the sale pavilion when Randy called me on my cell phone," De Renzo said. " 'I've found this horse that sells in about 35 minutes,' he said. 'Can you get our vet to check him out?' The vet went down there and looked him over real good, and we found out he was a ridgling. I said, 'I don't buy ridglings.' But the vet told me it wasn't like it used to be in the old days. They just go in and take it (the testicle that has not descended) right out. So, we bought the horse anyway--he was gorgeous--and we had his right testicle removed."

The ridgling was a little difficult to break. Hartley made him a special project, showering him with extra attention. The first time he worked, the sturdy chestnut showed he was something special, drawing away from another horse by five lengths. When he arrived on the OBS grounds, he flashed his brilliance again, breezing a quarter-mile in :21 3/5 on March 12. No other horse in the sale covered the distance faster. Long before he stepped into the auction ring on March 21, the son of Dehere was widely regarded by buyers and consignors as the auction's most promising prospect.

"This won't be the sale topper," aviation executive David Clark told reporters after he purchased a $200,000 Montbrook filly on March 20. "It's going to be that Dehere, hip number 222."

Bidding for Hartley and De Renzo's standout opened at $100,000, and "stayed there for a nanosecond," auctioneer Ryan Mahan said, before the price was raised to $300,000. Trainer Lynn Whiting, representing Dwight and Perry Sutherland's Choctaw Racing Stable, was interested. So was New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, who was representing Charles Hesse.

Florida horseman J.B. McKathan and Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan stood at the end of a chute behind the auction ring. They alternated talking on a cell phone to California-based owner Bob Lewis.

At $625,000, McKathan exclaimed, "I want to buy this son of a gun!" At $900,000, Moynihan said to Lewis, "Bob, he's an awful good horse. I would go (to $925,000)." At $1 million, Moynihan told Lewis, "I bet if we hit $1.025 million you buy him." The bid was made, but trainer Todd Pletcher, representing pharmaceutical mogul Eugene Melnyk, responded immediately with a $1,050,000 offer.

"He's not going to quit," Moynihan concluded, and the battle was over.

"He was one of the best horses I had seen all year long at any of the sales," Moynihan said later, "but at some point you have to stop. He (Pletcher) was pretty insistent on getting him. Every time we made a bid, he came right back."

Said Pletcher: "He was the best horse in the sale. We didn't anticipate that he was going to be cheap."

Melnyk, who lives in Barbados, did not attend the auction. But he did watch a video of the ridgling's quarter-mile work. Melnyk said he was impressed by the 2-year-old's speed and stride efficiency, which "was just incredible." It also didn't hurt that Melnyk's 2000 Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner Graeme Hall is by the same sire.

The Dehere ridgling was not the first seven-figure juvenile sold by Hartley and De Renzo. Just last year, their consignment to the Fasig-Tipton Florida select auction at Calder included Le Chat, a Storm Cat colt who brought $1.25 million. But even though the price was lower, topping the OBS March sale was a more emotional experience, the tearful Hartley said, "because I spent so much time with this horse. He would follow me around like a dog.

"We've also had such a tough year," Hartley added. "Our Pulpit colt got hurt in Miami, and we didn't get him sold."

The ridgling is the first foal produced from 6-year-old Sweet Gold. The Gilded Time mare is a half-sister to three added-money winners, including The Lone Ranger, who captured the 1986 Lawrence Realization Stakes (gr. IIT).

MARKET LEADERS

Melnyk purchased only one 2-year-old, but his $1,050,000 investment made him the OBS March sale's biggest spender. Ranking second was Choctaw Racing, which paid $650,000 for a pair of juveniles. Under Whiting's direction, Choctaw purchased a Mecke colt named Rylstone for $350,000 and a Cahill Road--Blockbuster Lady colt for $300,000. Whiting took over the Choctaw horses following the death of trainer Jeff Jacobs in February.

"They (the Sutherlands) have 12 horses with me at Oaklawn Park," Whiting said. "They had 15 or so, but a few were lost through the claiming box or were sent home. We're in the process now of augmenting the stable with 2-year-olds and bringing it up to the level where the Sutherlands want to compete."

New York-based bloodstock agent Brian Morgan ranked third on the leading buyers' list, spending $475,000 for four head. Morgan was at the sale with trainer Scott Lake, who will condition all of the purchases. Lake, whose stable consists mostly of claimers, was a finalist for the 2000 Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer.

"We're trying to get a little bit better stock and hope we get lucky," Lake said.

The trainer and Morgan were shopping for a new client. They also were looking for horses for racing partnerships.

Chace paid $447,000 for three horses, including a $310,000 Wild Zone--Twist the Facts colt that he bought for Hesse. Richard Cross of Narvick International complained about the wet weather, saying, "It's hard to fall in love with something when it's standing up to its coronet bands in water in the shedrow." But he still spent $395,000 for three horses. They included a $250,000 Alphabet Soup--Play Date colt and a $70,000 El Prado colt named Mystery Mode that are headed to Japan. Texas furniture tycoon Jim McIngvale, who was represented by McKathan, paid $385,000 for two horses, including a $260,000 Lord Avie--Be a Knockout colt. After signing the sale ticket for the Lord Avie colt, McKathan said he would be sent to trainer Bob Baffert.

"Everybody thought there was going to be a lot of stealing going on at this sale because the stock market took a plunge and people were getting nervous," McKathan said. "But good horses are bringing pretty high prices. You still have to pay a lot for the ones that do everything right."

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