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He Made All the Right Moves

Times Staff Writer

During an interview last year at his Overbrook Farm in Lexington, Ky., William T. Young said that he had gotten lucky with Storm Cat three times.

“I wound up with the horse because another farm was in financial difficulty,” Young said. “Then Keeneland wouldn’t let me sell him when he was a yearling. Then he just barely got beat in the Breeders’ Cup. If he had won that race, he would have been a champion [2-year-old], and I think I would have been able to finally sell him.”

But Young, who was 85 when he suffered a fatal heart attack Monday in Florida, deserved much of the credit once Storm Cat went to stud. On the way to becoming the world’s most expensive stallion, at $500,000 a breeding, Storm Cat was an unpopular stud for several years. By his fourth year at stud, his fee had sunk from $30,000 to $20,000, and Young said that even with a reduced price, Overbrook had to breed Storm Cat to 20 mares for nothing, just to keep the stallion’s career going.

Instead of moving on, Young persevered with Storm Cat, whose grandsires -- Northern Dancer and Secretariat -- won the Kentucky Derby. Storm Cat’s first crop of 39 horses earned an average of $16,850 on the track. By 2000, Storm Cat’s stud fee had mushroomed to $250,000, and that earnings average had grown to almost $180,000. His progeny includes Tabasco Cat, Cat Thief, Sharp Cat, Desert Stormer and Giant’s Causeway and 109 other horses who have won stakes.

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Young, who made his first important money in peanut butter after he borrowed from his father-in-law to get started, was a newcomer to the horse business in the early 1980s when, on the advice of some Kentucky horsemen, he bought into a three-mare breeding package. One of the horses was Terlingua, a daughter of Secretariat who in 1978 had beaten males in the Hollywood Juvenile and won the Del Mar Debutante by nine lengths.

Young said that Bill Lockridge, who was his partner, arranged for the mating -- between Storm Bird and Terlingua -- that produced Storm Cat, but by the time the foal arrived, Lockridge’s Ashford Stud had gone cash-poor. Young bought out Ashford, became the sole owner of Storm Cat and consigned him to the Keeneland yearling sale in July 1984.

“Just before the sale,” Young said, “somebody from Keeneland called and said three or four of the horses had tested positive for EVA [equine viral arteritis, an inflammation of the arteries], and Storm Cat was one of them. It was funny. Storm Cat might have tested positive for EVA, but he never had it. Anyway, Keeneland wanted me to bring him back in the September sale, but I just decided to keep him and race him.”

As a 2-year-old, Storm Cat was sent to Jonathan Sheppard, a leading steeplechase trainer who didn’t train that many horses on the flat. As best as anybody can recall, Sheppard was chosen by Young because he had a good breaking facility down the road from Derry Meeting Farm in Pennsylvania, where Storm Cat was foaled and raised.

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By the time Storm Cat got to the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Aqueduct, he had beaten the race favorite, Mogambo, three weeks before at the Meadowlands, and Young was hoping for another win and an Eclipse award. Mogambo was not a factor in New York; Tasso, ridden by Laffit Pincay, and Storm Cat, with Chris McCarron aboard, battled to the wire. Storm Cat led Tasso by three lengths at the eighth pole, but the outcome was going to be settled by inches.

Those around Young in the box seats thought Storm Cat had won by a neck, maybe even half a length.

“It was hard to tell,” Young said, “because Tasso finished up on the far outside, very wide of my horse. But I believed what everybody said, and went down to the winner’s circle like a fool. I said to myself that I’d never do that again.”

Storm Cat came out of the race with a chipped knee, later suffered a tendon injury and was retired after only two more starts. “I would have been tempted to sell him, and probably would have, if he had won the Breeders’ Cup race,” Young said.

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Last year, at 20, Storm Cat was bred to 123 mares. During the interview, Bill Young reflected on his advanced age and the age of his durable stallion.

“I guess we’re both on borrowed time, aren’t we?” Young said.

At the 1996 Kentucky Derby, in which Young’s Grindstone just did beat Cavonnier at the wire, the owner didn’t budge from his seat.

“I remembered Tasso,” he said last year. “I darn well wasn’t going to go down there again until I knew I had a right to.”

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