Costs, hopes are Numerous PREAKNESS 1994

May 17, 1994|By Ross Peddicord | Ross Peddicord,Sun Staff Writer

Numerous gazed out of his stall in the Preakness barn at Pimlico Race Course yesterday looking like more than a million dollars.

If the 3-year-old colt wins the Preakness on Saturday, he will become the second most expensive horse auctioned off as a year-old thoroughbred to win a Triple Crown race.

The first is A.P. Indy, who cost $2.9 million as a yearling and won the 1992 Belmont Stakes.

As a yearling, a horse has done nothing but grow into about a third of his full-grown size and has yet to have a saddle placed on his back. A purchase is made purely on speculation, the main guidelines being looks and pedigree.

In Numerous' case, he had terrific bloodlines, being a brother to French Grade I winner Jade Robbery and from the immediate family of two European champions, Nureyev and Sadler's Wells. Thus, he drew $1.7 million, tops among the nearly 8,000 thoroughbred yearlings that were sold at public auction two years ago.

The purchaser was Howard Keck, 81-year-old former president and chairman of Superior Oil Co., which he sold in 1984 to Mobil Oil for $5.7 billion.

Advising Keck in the purchase of Numerous was John Finney, a former Marylander whose father, Humphrey Finney, was the first field secretary of the Maryland Horse Breeders' Association and first editor of the Maryland Horse Magazine.

John Finney is now hospitalized in Lexington, Ky., after receiving a heart transplant. But his son, Michael, his associate in Finney Bloodstock, recalled yesterday details of how the horse was acquired.

"My father sends me and John Mayer, who owns Nursery Place Stud in Lexington, out to look at the yearlings," Michael Finney said. "He calls us his young legs. When the Keeneland [Ky.] July sales come up, we virtually look at every horse in the auction and go out to the farms beforehand to see the yearlings.

"Our first stop that summer was Claiborne Farm. Practically the first yearling we saw was Numerous. This guy came out and we loved him right away. We loved the way he moved and presented himself. He had a professional walk and no matter which way we turned him, he couldn't put a foot down wrong. He was just so well-balanced and well-proportioned."

Usually, Finney said, Keck, who has had more than 40 stakes winners, prefers to buy fillies. "He races and then breeds them," he said. "A perfect example is Ferdinand, his 1986 Kentucky Derby winner. There are three generations of Claiborne Farm and Keck breeding in the female side of that pedigree.

"Numerous was the first colt we had ever purchased for Mr. Keck, who is like a collector. He has a connoisseur's interest in the game. He only wants horses of the highest quality and colts that can get a distance of ground, who might go on and win a classic race and then have a career at stud. There are very few Mr. Kecks around."

When Numerous was sent to auction, Michael Finney remembers that his father "practically lived with the horse two days before he was sold. He sat on a bench outside the stall and watched him as he was led in and out for the potential buyers. There was another Mr. Prospector colt that he was interested in, but he liked this one the best. The colt didn't get sour or tired no matter how many times he was pulled out for inspection during the day."

Finney outbid representatives of Arab sheiks to land the colt for Keck.

As he has done for more than 35 years, Keck sent Numerous, like the rest of his horses, to Charlie Whittingham to train in California.

Whittingham said yesterday that he knew Numerous could run "almost as soon as we started working him. But we had to back off of him because of sore shins."

Even though the Mr. Prospector offspring have talent, they are not considered the soundest horses in the world.

After the horse's shins were blistered (with a counter-irritant), Numerous returned to the races. By February he was tested in a stakes for the first time after winning one maiden race and placing second in allowance company.

He finished second in the Bradbury Stakes. Whittingham then couldn't find a suitable race for the horse for nearly two months.

Numerous ran in the April 9 Santa Anita Derby after making just four starts and a number of workouts with his stablemate, Strodes Creek.

"They are both a little lazy and that's why I train them together, to make them more competitive," Whittingham said.

Sonia Simmons, who gallops both horses for Whittingham, said the two colts are entirely different. "Numerous is like a street fighter. He's always got something to say. Big Train [Strodes Creek] goes like an old hunter," she said.

Charles Clay, who grooms both runners, agrees.

"Numerous is playful and will rear and kick," he said. "Strodes is a lot quieter. You can walk him without a lip chain."

After Strodes Creek and Numerous finished third and fourth in the Santa Anita Derby, Whittingham took his colts on the road.

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