Jul 25, 2009


In Neon

Sharp Cat

Sharp Cat was in the news again the other day when her 3-year-old son Extra Sharp won by many lengths in his second start at Monmouth.

That unlocked another bank of memories regarding Broodmare of the Year In Neon, who was the dam of Sharp Cat, who won l5 races, seven of them Grade 1 events.

It is a twice told tale by now how I came to successfully lobby John Franks to purchase In Neon who was carrying the Storm Cat filly in utero.  There are other angles to the purchase and subsequent dispersal of Sharp Cat that have not been revealed.

The saga began way back in the 1960s when a claimer named Palsy Walsy was fast becoming my favorite horse.  It was a wet summer and the caddy yard was filled with ambitious lads with time on their hands hoping to “catch a loop” when the Sunnybrook Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia eventually dried out enough to play.

In the meantime, some of the older fellows studied the racing entries for Atlantic City Racecourse. Palsy Walsy caught my eye because he loved the mud and won repeatedly.  My racing bankroll began to surpass what the caddy yard could produce.

Fast forward a decade or so and I am a budding racetracker plying my trade in “Beautiful British Columbia” as the license plates would have it.  Exhibition Park was a long way from Atlantic City but there was no finer city than Vancouver and there was not a lot of competition among bloodstock agents. I was pretty much it, largely due to some national exposure commenting on CBC-TV shows coast-to-coast.

A sportsman named Pat Ballentine asked for my assistance in securing a 3-year-old colt to run in stakes at Ex Park, now known as Hastings Park.  He had been approached to buy a prospect named Captain’s Party and my job was to analyze his Woodbine form and pedigree.

And what do you know? Captain’s Party is none other than a son of Palsy Walsy.  Talk about your “no brainers”! Palsy Walsy and mud in a town with 40 inches of rain a year.

Sign me up.

Captain’s Party did his job and won a number of stakes for Ballentine.

Palsy Walsy was doing her job, too. She produced a good California stakes-winner in Shamara and she, in turn,  produced In Neon.

A few years later another Vancouver owner named Peter Redekop sent me to the May 2-year-old sale at Barretts in Pomona, CA with instructions to “buy the fastest in the sale.”

The fastest horse is easy to spot.  He’s another son of In Neon, by Al Nasr.  He works brilliantly but there’s a catch...he has a club foot.  I report that fact and the potential buyer asks “what’s a club foot”?

I tell him what I know, that it’s not a big deal if managed properly.  My man is gunshy and decides to pass.

The consignor is Lev Fanning who touts his brother Jerry on the horse who goes on to win $807,000 named Star Recruit.

I moved to Kentucky in 1993 and go to the November Keeneland Sale to check out In Neon once again.  I do not have a buyer because I think she is going to bring half a million and don’t try to hustle up a buyer. 

In Neon leaves the ring unsold with a last price of $l60,000.  Quickly I seek out Californian Meryl Ann Tanz and ask what is her bottom dollar.

“Two hundred thousand and not a penny less,” she avers.  Agents hover about trying to make a deal while I head straight to the telephone exchange and ring up Franks.

He demands to know why I expect him to pay $200,000 when the market has rejected the mare at under $l60,000.

“ I know this family,” I tell him.  “This has already produced a major stakes-winner by a failed sire.  What if you get a good looking Storm Cat foal.  This mare would then be worth a fortune.”

“OK, go buy her,” he said.

What I did not tell him is that In Neon is perhaps the ugliest mare I have ever seen.

That’s why no one would bid high on her in the ring.  I was quite likely the only person in that Keeneland sale ring who had been closely involved in the evolution of a successful family for thirty years.

The Storm Cat filly arrives and I am full of anticipation as I venture out to see her in her first week of life.  Not too bad, I think. Plenty of leg and length, well muscled.  But her right knee is rotated out pretty good.  She’ll need time.

The following summer Franks decides to cull back hundreds of his horses.  In general, we tried to cut from the bottom and keep the better stock.

We have a meeting in his Shreveport office with the Fasig-Tipton staff. They want to sell the Storm Cat filly and I am adamant that he keep her to race.  He tells us that he can enter the filly and keep her if she doesn’t sell well.

Come dispersal day and another meeting is held with the auctioneers to set reserves. I suggest a reserve of $l50,000: Franks lowers it to $125,000.  I am disappointed but the worse was yet to come.

I am on the auction stand reading the pedigrees.  Sharp Cat is in the ring and the bidding is sluggish.  The phone rings.  From a back office Franks asks if the $82,000 bid is live money.

“Yes sir, it is,” I tell him. “ Mr. and Mrs. Rogers made the bid from the right side of the ring”.

“I’m in a selling mood”, he says.  “Sell her”’.

The rest, as they say, is history.

At a post-sale meeting the mood is flat.  Franks asked how I thought we made out.

“Not too bad,” I said.  “But I’m afraid that you will one day wish you had not sold the In Neon filly.”

The Rogers turned $82K into $400,000 when they sold her at Saragota to Rick Porter.

Porter sold her as a 2-year-old for $900,000.  Thoroughbred Corporation won $2 million at the races.  Darley bought her for millions more.