03/16/2005 12:00AM

$1.9M Songandaprayer colt tops sale

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Bob Lewis (center), flanked by trainers D. Wayne Lukas (left) and Bob Baffert, outbid Sidney Craig for the sale-topping Songandaprayer colt.

POMONA, Calif. - A pair of California-based buyers turned out to be the Barretts March select juvenile sale's biggest supporters on Tuesday. Bob Lewis and Sidney Craig surprised onlookers in the middle of the one-day sale by hooking up in a bidding duel that ended with Lewis the owner of a sale-topping $1.9 million colt by freshman sire Songandaprayer.

The men who had been widely expected to collide over the day's top lots, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's agent John Ferguson and Coolmore's agent Demi O'Byrne, were largely absent from the sale results. Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud Management bought one horse, a $750,000 Dixie Union-Devil's Orchid colt sold by Sequel Bloodstock, agent, and O'Byrne never signed a ticket.

The day's only other seven-figure lot was Hip No. 43, a Grand Slam-Marsh Cat colt that Japanese agent Hirokazu Sumida bought from the Jerry Bailey Sales Agency.

The auction's gross sales rose 5 percent, from $13,728,000 last year to $14,360,500. But, despite the two seven-figure horses, average and median price slipped from last year's auction, which included a dispersal of Thoroughbred Corp. horses and Sheikh Mohammed's purchase of an Awesome Again-Sassy Pants filly for a world-record $2 million.

The 2005 auction sold 88 juveniles for an average price of $163,188, down from last year's $173,772 average for 79 sold. The 2005 median was $95,000, down from last year's $100,000. But the buyback rate held nearly level, rising just one percentage point this year to 39 percent.

Going into the auction, Barretts president Jerry McMahon had been most concerned about the buyback rate. He was also concerned about whether local trainers would support the auction, especially in the $75,000-to-$250,000 price range. While the upper market at Barretts traditionally has attracted bids from some of the world's wealthiest players, Barretts has had to work hard to attract local owners and trainers to buy midpriced horses.

"We had a great group of buyers here," McMahon said. "In many cases they just kind of differed in what they thought they should give consignors."

The locals stepped to the fore on the bidding for Hip No. 143, the Murray Smith agency's Songandaprayer colt out of stakes winner What a Knight (Tough Knight). The nearly black colt with a wide white blaze had gotten a lot of attention in the week before the auction. At the March 7 preview, he breezed a quarter-mile in 20.60 seconds, a top-class time. As expected, Ferguson was among the parties gathered around when Hip No. 143 came to the sale pavilion, and spectators expected a clash of titans to drive the colt's price well past the $1 million mark. They got a battle, but not quite the one they expected.

Ferguson never appeared to make a bid as Lewis, seated inside, settled in against Craig, who was bidding behind the auction ring. Craig appeared beaten on Lewis's $1.7 million bid. But, after long thought, he made a $1.8 million offer, only to be countered quickly by Lewis's winning $1.9 million bid.

Lewis was the sale's leading buyer overall, paying a total of $3,875,000 for five lots.

Smith ended the evening as the auction's leading consignor, with just four horses bringing a total of $2,270,000. The $1.9 million Songandaprayer colt contributed the bulk of that and was a spectacular home run for Smith, too. She bought him from Keene Ridge Farm last year for $95,000 at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's July yearling sale.

For his part, Craig might have been trying to atone for a near miss he had back at the 1995 Barretts March sale, when he was the underbidder on Unbridled's Song. The colt went on to win that season's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and is now a fashionable sire. But Craig was philosophical about losing Hip No. 143 this time around.

"I liked everything about him," Craig said. "He was the best horse in the sale, and that's what I wanted to get, a horse of that caliber. I figured $1.8 million would get him, but they kept going."

This year, the marketplace overall was still selective, but local buyers supported the sale at all levels, including the middle range. Among the auction's leading buyers were John Sadler, agent, whose purchases ranged from a $250,000 Forest Wildcat-Style and Class filly that Jerry Bailey, agent, sold, to a $900,000 Indian Charlie-Tupelo Belle colt offered by H. T. Stables, agent; Patrick Biancone, who bought a $250,000 Tiznow-Piccolo Player colt from Eddie Woods, agent; and Craig Dollase, agent for Terrance Lanni, who bought a $150,000 Yes It's True-Walk Away Rene filly from Jerry Bailey, agent, and a $180,000 Tactical Cat-Baltic Ballerina filly from Robert Scanlon, agent.

"I think the sale is great, and there are a lot of good horses in the middle," Craig said, noting that he and partner Halo Farms bought another Murray Smith-consigned colt, a son of Dixie Union and Salty Lady, for $150,000.

That was the kind of purchase that Barretts chief McMahon was especially glad to hear about.

"The market was selective," he concluded, adding, "I'm disappointed we didn't get more horses sold, but I talked to a few buyers who were looking for the $150,000 to $200,000 level, and they couldn't find anything. So it's probably a hard sale to work from the buyers' standpoint and not all that easy from the sellers'. But I think that may be the nature of select 2-year-old sales at this point."