3-day yearling sale is off to a fast start; Average price exceeds '98; six bring $100,000-plus


Alice and Larry Wolf sat down, stood up, walked around, sat down again, got up and stood this time in a different place. They were as nervous as prospective parents.

Their year-old colt from their 8-year-old mare was about to enter the ring yesterday at the Timonium sales pavilion at the state fairgrounds. Alice, 47, took deep breaths. Larry, 64, chewed gum.

Residents of Columbia, they have owned a few horses over the years with modest success. But this was the first horse they'd ever sold at auction.

"This is more tension than on race day," Larry said.

The handsome chestnut colt, a son of Maryland's hottest sire, Polish Numbers, and the Wolfs' mare, Platinum Punch, was led into the ring. Bidding started at $50,000, a promising sign. It stalled at $70,000. Alice exhaled. Larry chewed faster.

The bidding resumed and then picked up, quickly surpassing $100,000. It hit $110,000, then $120,000, and finally $122,000. That was greeted with silence, then the rap of the auctioneer's hammer.

The Wolfs embraced, their faces alight with smiles. They hugged JoAnn and David Hayden, their friends and advisers who own Dark Hollow Farm in Upperco.

Their euphoria -- the word the Wolfs used later to describe the moment -- summed up the past three months of yearling sales in the United States. Buoyed by the strong economy and widespread optimism about the future of horse racing, recent sales of yearlings have demolished records for average price and total sales.

The Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Eastern Fall yearling sale appears headed for records as well. At yesterday's opening session, 170 horses sold for $3,629,500, an average of $21,350. Last year's average was $18,848.

The Wolfs' yearling was one of six selling for $100,000 or more. Eleven sold for $50,000 or more.

"It used to be that $50,000 topped the sale three years ago," said Mason Grasty, executive vice president of Fasig-Tipton Midlantic.

If the trends hold up in sessions today and tomorrow, records will fall for total sales, average price and number of horses sold. Because a record number of yearlings were entered (750), the sale was expanded for the first time from two days to three.

"I think it's one of the better sales in the country," said Ernie Paragallo after spending $200,000 for another Polish Numbers colt. "A ton of runners have come out of this sale. They breed good horses here."

Paragallo, who lives on Long Island, made his name in racing while campaigning Unbridled's Song, the beaten favorite in the 1996 Kentucky Derby. He estimates that he has purchased 20 horses at Timonium in the past five or six years.

Henry Carroll, the New Jersey-based trainer who bought the Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Smoke Glacken at Timonium, said he was here looking for more prospects.

"They raise a good, solid horse here," Carroll said. "These Maryland horses can go anywhere and win."

The Wolfs hope that that's the case with their baby. They bought her mother, Platinum Punch, at a Kentucky sale in 1992 for $12,000. She won nearly $150,000 for them on the racetrack.

"From the moment she stepped off the van from Kentucky, she was breathtaking," Alice Wolf said. "We fell in love with her."

After her retirement in 1996, they decided to breed her. She gave birth in 1998 to a vivacious, chestnut colt who grew into the strong-bodied, athletic yearling that drew the bid of $122,000. James and Robert Crupi, a father-son team from Florida, bought the colt as an investment. They said they would keep him at their farm in Ocala until the February sale of 2-year-olds at Calder in southern Florida. Robert Crupi said he hoped the colt could fetch $250,000 there.

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