Updated on 09/15/2011 12:37PM

$4 million 'Ballado' colt tops sub-par sale

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
The bidding stopped at a session-topping $4 million for a son of Saint Ballado at the Keeneland July Sale on Monday night.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Demi O'Byrne's $4 million final bid for a Saint Ballado colt added glitter to Monday night's opening session at Keeneland's July selected yearling sale, but it was not all good news for the prestigious auction house.

Despite the $4 million session-topper, a $2 million top filly by Storm Cat, and three other seven-figure yearlings, opening night figures declined across the board. As compared to last year's first night of selling, gross revenue this year fell 12 percent to $25,847,000 for 44 lots sold. Average price also dropped 12 percent to $587,432, and median plummeted 27 percent to $375,000.

The 2001 buyback rate soared to a perilous 36 percent, well up from last year's 28 percent, as a handful of wealthy buyers concentrated on a handful of horses and failed to support sellers' reserve prices on others.

In 2000, the first session sold the same number of horses, 44, for gross receipts of $29,477,000, an average price of $669,932, and a $512,500 median.

O'Byrne, representing his usual client, Michael Tabor, should be in line for

some hearty thanks from Keeneland. The Irish agent single-handedly accounted

for more than a third of the auction house's revenue on Monday night, picking

up five horses for $9,025,000.

The high point, from both a financial and an emotional standpoint, was the

torrid bidding war that erupted over Aaron and Marie Jones's Saint Ballado

colt out of Grade 3 winner Charm a Gendarme (Batonnier). The racy-looking

dark bay colt, a half-brother to Grade 1 winner and millionaire Tout

Charmant, put O'Byrne at odds with a familiar foe, Sheikh Mohammed al

Maktoum's English Bloodstock agent John Ferguson. O'Byrne wore an impassive

expression as he cast his bids from his usual seat far to the auctioneer's

left. Ferguson, bidding from outside the arena, remained invisible but

tenacious, running O'Byrne to the $4 million mark before backing down.

For the Joneses, the moment marked an enormous return on their investment. They

bought the colt's dam, Charm a Gendarme, for just $290,000 at the 1998

Keeneland November sale. At the time this colt was conceived, in 1999, Saint

Ballado's stud fee was just $30,000, well below his current price of $125,000.

The $4 million session-topper cruised past last year's sale-topping price of

$3.6 million, which Padua Stables paid for Born Perfect, a Mr. Prospector

filly, and it equaled the $4 million Fusao Sekiguchi paid for his 2000

Kentucky Derby winner, Fusaichi Pegasus, in 1998. But it was far below

Keeneland's world-record price for a yearling, the $13.1 million that

Seattle Dancer brought as a yearling at Keeneland's 1985 July auction.

O'Byrne said Tabor will campaign the Saint Ballado colt in Ireland in

partnership with Coolmore boss John Magnier.

The session-topper was consigned through the Taylor Made Sales Agency, which

finished furlongs ahead of the competition as the opener's leading consignor

with $7,875,000 in revenue.

Taylor Made, a family-owned operation near Nicholasville, Ky., also was the

selling agent for the evening's top filly, a daughter of Storm Cat and a

half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Excellent Meeting. Betty Moran's

Brushwood Stable, which has Excellent Meeting in its broodmare band,

spent $2 million to acquire the bay filly.

Just one lot prior to that, Demi O'Byrne bought a Gentlemen (Arg) colt out of

Fire the Groom for $500,000 who presented an interesting story. The colt was

expected to attract the attention of European bidders - and especially

O'Byrne's client, because he is a half-brother to European champion

Stravinsky, whom Tabor also campaigned. He certainly did turn O'Byrne's head,

but, interestingly, the colt is not likely to duplicate his illustrious

half-brother's European championship anytime soon.

In a terrible stroke of misfortune, the Gentlemen (Arg) colt unexpectedly

tested positive prior to the sale for equine viral arteritis. The positive,

which means he was exposed to the disease at some point, will prevent him

from being imported to Europe or Japan without first undergoing a semen test

to ensure that he is not actually carrying the disease.

As a result, O'Byrne said, the colt will remain in training in the United

States.

According to consigning agent Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud, the colt was

exposed to the disease as a foal, when his nurse mare caught the contagious

disease during an outbreak on her home farm.