Whenever I watch a yearling sale, my rapt fascination with the proceedings is mingled with feelings of envy. This is the only place where it occurs to me to regret the fact that I am not very, very rich.

We ordinary citizens do not have many chances to observe the upper crust of American society from close range. Oil men and inheritors of "old money" customarily do their wheeling and dealing in private.

But here, as the rich waggle their fingersds of thousands of dollars on beautiful young horses, the common folk can press their noses against the glass on or look down in awe from the balcony.

In the front row center sits Liz Whitney Tippett, swaddled in a di(Years ago, when she married John Hay Whitney, he reached into the pocket of his cutaway and handed her a wedding gift: a check fo$1 million.)

In the section of the pavilion next to her are members of the Phipps family, who rarely buy yes of millions of dollars entitle them to front-row seats every year. (The Phipps' progenitor was a neighbor ofther they built the company that became known as U.S. Steel).

Near the Phippses is Henryk de Kwiatkowski, mth never a hair out of place. He made his fortune selling airplanes, but he picked up some pocket change last quistador Cielo was syndicated for $36.4 million.

Even the people who are consigned to the rear rows of thee, for the most part, fabulously wealthy. When the average yearling sells for more than $200,000, a mere milliy. The people who do play the game are visible proof that it is far better to be rich than otherwise.

The mssured, the women elegant and bejeweled. Over the years, they have appeared to me to be so inexhaustibly rich,it is hard to believe that there is an unassuming, silver-haired man here who can humble them all.

Col. Ricindly small-town banker, but he is the representative of Sheik Mahmoud al Maktoum, and because of that role hee dominant force at this week's Saratoga Yearling Sales. The Arab money he wields can inundate anyone in this night, the yearling everybody wanted came into the Saratoga auction ring: a son of Spectacular Bid who was wiest-looking individual in the sale. Robert Sangster, the staggeringly wealthy buyer who lives in a castle on the Isle of Man, wanted him. Windfields Farm of Maryland joined a partnership trying to buy the colt, and the Windfields people are not paupers; they collect $300,000 every time their stallion, Northern Dancer, is bred to a mare.

But they might as well have been paupers when Col. Warden took his position at the top on the balcony and started bidding. Whenever anyone else bid, he immediately nodded his head to raise the priceindfields people surrendered. "They passed us like we were standing still," one of them said. That left Sangstden was signaling the auctioneer so imperceptibly that even people near him didn't realize what he was doing. irl in a pink dress happened to walk in front of him, the colonel firmly pushed her out of his way, a gesture at he was doing to all his rivals in the auction.

He bid $3 million with so little hesitation that he gave the impression that he would go to $300 million if he had to. And, of course, he could have, so boundless is the pool of Arab money behind him and so great is his client's determination to acquire the best thoroughbreds in the world.

He didn't have to go beyond $3 million, however, because the Sangster people surrendered at that level. Warden got his horse, as he always does. And the people like Sangster and Liz Tippett and Ogden Phipps and Henryk de Kwiatkowski could look up to the balcony with envy and wonder what it must be like to be truly, truly rich.