08/09/2006 11:00PM

$1.6 million 'Empire' filly tops sale

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Ahmed Zayat, Don Adam, and Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley operation all made million-dollar splashes Wednesday night at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale's second and final session.

Zayat outbid Darley representative John Ferguson to secure the auction sale-topper, a $1.6 million filly from the first crop of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker. Sold as Hip No. 146, the filly is out of the Seeking the Gold stakes-winner Sluice, who is a daughter of multiple Grade 1 winner Lakeway. Craig and Holly Bandoroff's Denali Stud agency consigned the sale-topper.

"She's the kind of filly you can build a foundation on," said Zayat's bloodstock advisor, Sobhy Sombol, adding that the Egyptian beverage magnate is interested in building a substantial broodmare band.

Don Adam, owner of Courtlandt Farm in Florida, made a rare move in signing a ticket at a yearling sale. Bidding from behind the sale pavilion, Adam signed for Hip 171, a $1.45 million filly by Mineshaft out of the Grade 1-placed mare Unbridled Lassie, by Unbridled. The family includes broodmare of the year Weekend Surprise, standout sire A. P. Indy, Preakness Stakes winner Summer Squall, and others. Lane's End--whose owner Will Farish introduced Adam to racing and where Adam keeps many of his Kentucky broodmares--was the consignor on behalf of Kilroy Thoroughbred Partnership.

Adam, who outdueled Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's Shadwell Estate Company, is a more familiar face at broodmare sales but called Hip No. 171 "a collector's item" and said he was looking forward to racing her.

Ferguson, bidding on behalf of Darley, took home the night's third highest-priced horse, a $1.3 million Unbridled's Song-Queen's Lady colt. Queen's Lady, an unraced daughter of Storm Cat, is out of Grade 3 winner Jeano; that female family includes champion juvenile filly Folklore and I'll Get Along, dam of Smarty Jones.

Darley acquired four horses on Wednesday night for a total of $2,215,000. Their auction-ring rivals, Coolmore Stud, purchased four for $2,475,000, headed by an $800,000 Mr. Greeley colt out of the unraced A. P. Indy mare Tell Me Now. The mare, a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Dr. Caton, is from the family of 1978 Triple Crown winner Affirmed.

During its two-day run, the auction sold 130 yearlings for $42,085,000, well up from last year, when a smaller catalog yielded $33,415,000 for 103 lots. Average price slipped from $324,417 to $323,731, but median gained, rising from $225,000 to $245,000. The buyback rate fell from 24 percent last year to 19 percent.