08/11/2005 12:00AM

$3.1 million Storm Cat colt tops sale

Lee Einsidler bowed out at $1.5 million.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Heading into the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga selected yearling sale, many auction participants openly wondered whether such "boutique" sales were becoming anachronistic. Keeneland has dropped its select July sale and Fasig-Tipton trimmed the Saratoga sale from three days to two this year, even as Walmart-style auctions such as Keeneland September and Fasig-Tipton July have grown. But if highly select summer yearling sales are going out of style, someone forgot to tell the buyers.

The two-day Saratoga sale ended in dramatic style Wednesday night with a tense bidding duel, a $3.1 million sale-topping Storm Cat colt bought by agent Demi O'Byrne, and sharp gains in average and median prices. By the time the hammer fell for the night's final horse, consignors who had feared the demise of summer select selling were feeling downright chipper.

The numbers bore them out. The smaller catalog sold 103 lots for $33,415,000, down from last year's $45,705,000 gross for 150 yearlings. But average price climbed from $304,700 last year to $324,417, and median increased from $212,500 to $225,000. The buyback rate rose slightly from last year's 21 percent but remained moderate at 24 percent.

The star of the sale was a real collector's item. Bred by Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stables and consigned through the Taylor Made agency, Hip No. 130 was the only Storm Cat colt in the auction and a son of Grade 1 winner Rings a Chime. Foaled March 9, 2004, the dark bay or brown colt was plain in color but showed great poise, calmly circling in the auction ring while two familiar and friendly adversaries - Michael Tabor and Coolmore Stud's agent O'Byrne and Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's representative John Ferguson - battled to determine his future.

O'Byrne and Ferguson were not the only bidders to take a shot. Lee Einsidler, an executive for the importer of Grey Goose vodka and other spirits, ran with them early but bowed out at $1.5 million. As the price escalated to $2 million, the bidding bounced from behind the pavilion, where O'Byrne and his Team Coolmore cohorts stood under a maple tree near their bid-spotter's stand, to the bidding arena's cool interior, where Ferguson sat stone-faced in an aisle seat. Ferguson's expression gradually became one of chagrin as O'Byrne refused to capitulate, and he finally shook his head when auctioneer Walt Robertson asked him to raise his offer to $3.2 million. When the hammer fell, O'Byrne got the receipt, adding another son of Storm Cat to Coolmore's globally dominant breeding and racing operation.

Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside brand, if you can call it that, is one of the most sought-after labels for any yearling buyer. The McNairs and their longtime breeding partners Arthur and Staci Hancock of Stone Farm brought the market such standouts as 2000 Kentucky Derby winner and popular young sire Fusaichi Pegasus, who sold for $4 million as a 1998 Keeneland July yearling, among numerous other profitable and successful horses. The McNairs and Hancocks dissolved their breeding partnership late last year, but that has not dented the demand for Stonerside-bred bloodstock. Which is one reason Taylor Made co-owner Mark Taylor was not shocked by the $3.1 million price.

"When you've got a Storm Cat foal, they're a unique commodity," Taylor said. "If they can perform on the racetrack, they're an instant $10 million horse if they win the right race, and then they can go on and become the next Giant's Causeway or Forestry or whatever. And there are going to be a finite number of those coming through the ring, because Storm Cat is getting up in years."

Einsidler, who dropped out on Hip No. 130 and also lost to Jess Jackson in the bidding for Tuesday night's session-topping $2.2 million Fusaichi Pegasus-Collect Call filly, did not go home empty-handed. Seated with trainer John Kimmel, Einsidler bought Wednesday night's only other seven-figure horse, a $1.1 million Fusaichi Pegasus-Lost the Code colt. The yearling is a half-brother to champion sprinter Squirtle Squirt. Coolmore's American division, Ashford Stud, bred the colt in partnership with Audrey Narducci.

"He wants to stick with top echelon stuff," Kimmel said of Einsidler. "He doesn't want to fool around. He's not going to get into big numbers, he's going to concentrate on quality."

And quality, buyers such as Kimmel emphasized, is why this boutique auction, at least, still has a place on the yearling sale calendar. Kimmel said he hoped the Saratoga sale would expand again, now that the 2005 edition outpaced expectations.

"Owners like to be here," Kimmel said. "It's a great atmosphere. Obviously, a big horse can sell well here, and I hope they kind of fill it up again with hip numbers.

"There were some really nice horses here," he added. "Some of the consignors might be mistaken in thinking they have to wait until [Keeneland] September, because I think there are plenty of buyers here."

Wednesday's top-priced lots

130CStorm Cat Rings A ChimeTaylor Made Sales AgencyDr. Dermot O'Byrne$3,100,000
98CFusaichi Pegasus Lost The CodeHighclere Sales AgentJohn Kimmel For Circle E1,100,000
142CGone West Star Of GoshenBluewater Sales Llc AgentAhmed Zayat680,000
138FGiant's Causeway SlideEaton Sales, AgentDr. Dermot O'Byrne650,000
112CTale Of The Cat Mrs. FilioEaton Sales, AgentM W Miller III575,000
122CForestry Potential PleasureGainesway Agent Stonestreet Stables Llc 525,000
146CDixie Union Stylish StormDromoland/Hartwell Agent Live Oak Plantation500,000
141CUnbridled's Song SpontaneousTaylor Made Sales AgcyJohn Ferguson500,000
93FGiant's Causeway Lemon DoveDromoland/Hartwell AgentM W Miller III500,000
126FForest Wildcat RaskaEaton Sales, AgentAhmed Zayat475,000