03/02/2005 1:00AM

$5.2M colt pushes sale to records across board

This Tale of the Cat 2-year-old colt sold for a world-record $5.2 million.

Fasig-Tipton's select auction at Calder Race Course became the world's richest 2-year-old sale on Tuesday, setting an individual mark of $5.2 million for a juvenile and breaking records for gross and average as well.

Highlighting the one-day auction was the $5.2 million Tale of the Cat-Carry All colt that Robert Scanlon, agent, sold to Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley organization. Maktoum was not at the sale; his representatives in the transaction were agent John Ferguson, who regularly bids for him, and Jimmy Bell, who heads up Darley at Jonabell, one of Sheikh Mohammed's Kentucky properties.

The Tale of the Cat colt was one of eight lots to reach or pass the $1 million mark, and he easily shattered the previous 2-year-old world record of $4.5 million. Fusao Sekiguchi paid that for Fusaichi Samurai at this sale last year.

The flood of seven-figure horses also included a $3 million Forestry-Rare Bird colt that Tony Bowling and Bobby Dodd, agent, sold to Coolmore representative Demi O'Byrne, and a $2.9 million Grand Slam-Dama colt that agent Maurice Miller III sold to Darley.

Such massive expenditures helped push the 2005 Calder auction to a gross of $50,132,000 and raised the average price to $341,034, both records for a juvenile auction. Last year, the one-day sale posted a $41,586,000 gross and $292,859 average. This year's median of $200,000 was up 18 percent from last year's $170,000.

As often is the case at select 2-year-old sales, one good horse could make all the difference in the world for a seller. And, at Calder, no one benefited more from that principle than Jay Brunker, his wife, Cammie, and their anonymous Asian-based partners. They bred the $5.2 million Tale of the Cat colt from the young Devil's Bag mare Carry All.

Mare's pedigree a major plus factor

Now 7, Carry All won just one of her six starts in a brief racing career, but her bloodlines added significantly to her value. She is a Phipps family homebred, a full sister to the Grade 1 winner and fashionable sire Seeking the Gold, and a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Fast Play and Grade 1-placed Stacked Pack. Bloodlines like that are nearly priceless, and, hailing as this pedigree does from a homebreeding program, exceedingly difficult to come by at auction. Those factors influenced Sheikh Mohammed's decision to bid, and bid aggressively, for Carry All's 2-year-old son, the mare's first foal.

Jay Brunker said the partnership bought Carry All privately from a Phipps family agent and originally had intended to race her foal. That plan changed in midsummer, Brunker said, due to a variety of reasons in the partnership, and the Asian contingent - Carry All's majority owners - opted to put the Tale of the Cat colt through the auction ring.

"I was a little disappointed," said Brunker, who was present when Carry All foaled this colt at the Brunkers' Halcyon Farm in northern Fayette County, Ky. "The partnership is racing-oriented, and that's where their interest lies, and I thought we had a nice individual. I didn't know how nice, but I liked what I had seen of him at the farm: the way he moved in the field, his presence, his conformation. But looking back now, I don't have any regrets. I honestly wish Sheikh Mohammed all the best luck in the world with him."

The Brunkers' Halcyon Farm is a 50-acre operation with nine mares, including Carry All, who has a Dixie Union yearling filly and is in foal to Doneraile Court. Halcyon's previous high auction price was $300,000 for a Singspiel colt.

Brunker said he and his wife began to think the Tale of the Cat colt might bring $1 million the week before the auction, when the colt worked an eighth for Scanlon in 10.20 seconds "and looked like he was having fun doing it."

"It was the Wednesday before the first public breeze show, and, as I learned, there were already a lot of the major buyers there: guys from Coolmore, a representative for Sheikh Mohammed, and several others," Brunker said. "He got everybody's attention."

Surreal experience for Brunkers

Brunker and his wife attended the auction and were stunned by the price their colt brought.

"It got to be surreal after a certain point," Brunker said of the bidding. "Everything started to go in slow motion. My wife started to cry, and the whole thing lost touch with reality."

"Obviously, the top of the market has been phenomenal today," Browning said late in the session. "We thought we had an outstanding group of horses, but I can't look you in the eye and tell you we had any idea it was going to be as strong as it's been at the top. We had great participation from a wide variety of people."

The combined force of multiple major buyers made it tough for almost anyone who wanted to buy a top racing prospect out of the sale, even Coolmore's agent, O'Byrne. The underbidder on the record-breaking sale-topper, O'Byrne observed that "the ones I liked were hard to buy, and I failed to buy one, so that says it all."

Buyback rate hits 45 percent

The record figures were dazzling, but there was some worrying news in the numbers, too. The buyback rate at the auction jumped from 36 percent last year - a number regarded as the high range of normal for 2-year-old sales - to 45 percent this season.

The Fasig-Tipton Calder sale is the bellwether for the select 2-year-old auction season, and it sent the message that fierce competition for a handful of obvious gems can give sellers unprecedented returns. But the buyback rate suggested that sellers shouldn't let their expectations get too high in a selective marketplace where there's little apparent "trickle-down" effect.

In today's 2-year-old market, it seems, the wealthiest buyers are not likely to look for more horses if they get outbid on their short list, a cautionary note for sellers as they prepare to set their reserves at the next big 2-year-old sale, the March 15 Barretts auction in Pomona, Calif.

- additional reporting by David Grening