11/06/2006 12:00AM

$6 million mark reached twice on day one

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Young broodmares and broodmare prospects were very fashionable on Monday at the Keeneland November selected breeding stock sale's opening session, but it was a 3-year-old Unbridled's Song colt that stole the show.

Hip No. 295, an unbeaten Unbridled's Song colt named Half Ours, brought $6.1 million from Aaron Jones, setting a record price for a horse in training sold at Keeneland. The previous record was $4.6 million in 1989 for Open Mind. Jones was buying out his partner, Barry Schwartz.

"Pre-sale handicapping would have said that a broodmare prospect would bring more than a colt in training, but when partners dissolve a partnership, it's hard to work out how far they will go," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell.

The opener grossed $83,795,000 for 164 lots, yielding a $510,945 average and a $297,500 median. Gross was down 15 percent from last year's equivalent session, when 180 head sold. Average was down 6 percent, and median dropped 6 percent. At last year's opener, Ashado brought a world record $9 million, and 20 lots brought $1 million or more.

This year, Half Ours was one of 17 horses to bring $1 million or more at the opening session, which was otherwise dominated by young broodmares and broodmare prospects. The second-highest price of the day, and the highest for a broodmare, was the $6 million that Grade 1 winner Madcap Escapade brought from Hill 'n' Dale Farm owner John Sikura, who also paid $4.5 million for her dam, Sassy Pants. Claiborne Farm, agent, sold Madcap Escapade in foal to A.P. Indy. Gerry Dilger's Dromoland Farm agency sold Sassy Pants, also the dam of Grade 1 winner Dubai Escapade, in foal to Storm Cat.

It looked as if those would be the biggest prices of the day. But just a few hips from the end of the auction, Half Ours shook things up.

Jones originally purchased Half Ours for $625,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling sale but was approached by Schwartz afterwards about forming a partnership. Jones accepted.

But, as Jones explained after signing the $6.1 million ticket to buy out his partners' half-interest in the colt on Monday, 50 percent ownership was too restrictive for a man used to making his own decisions. The partnership agreed to dissolve by sending the aptly named Half Ours through the auction ring. In the meantime, the colt's value had appreciated considerably.

As a son of Unbridled's Song, one of the most fashionable young sires of the moment, Half Ours was destined to be viewed as a stallion prospect himself. He has increased his appeal by winning his first two starts, earning black type in the latter, the Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes at Churchill on May 7. He took time off after that to repair a fracture in his right hind ankle but is back in training and will return to trainer Todd Pletcher's barn.

"The horse will go on just like he has been, but he won't have any other owners," Jones said. "I own him entirely. I could change my mind at any time, but my mind right now is to send him back to the same trainer and go on about our business."

"Todd says he's a real Grade 1 horse," added Frank Taylor, a partner in Taylor Made Sales, which consigned the colt and also stands his sire, Unbridled's Song. The long-term goal, Taylor and Jones agreed, is to make a successful stallion out of Half Ours and stand him alongside his sire at Taylor Made. If that happens and Half Ours proves as successful as Unbridled's Song, then Jones's $6.1 million investment may look less expensive.

"You've got to pay what they're worth," Jones said with a smile. "And that's anybody's guess."

The worth of young mares, apparently, is very high these days. That was the Keeneland market's clear message on Monday.

Madcap Escapade, offered as Hip No. 173, understandably was one of the sale's most desirable lots: a young broodmare with a sterling pedigree and plenty of upside potential.

Sikura called Madcap Escapade "a long-term investment in a very special racemare" and said he hoped the mare ultimately would produce an outstanding sire for Hill 'n' Dale.

"Hopefully, she'll be the next Silvery Swan," he said, referring to the Silver Deputy mare who produced two of Hill 'n' Dale's current stallions, El Corredor and Roman Ruler; both stallions stood for $30,000 fees this year.

Sikura has been on a spending spree at the November sales. In addition to Madcap Escapade and Sassy Pants, he also purchased $1.75 million Last Song, in foal to A. P. Indy; $950,000 Peinture Ancienne, in foal to Giant's Causeway; and $800,000 Irish Cherry, the dam of Spun Sugar, also in foal to Storm Cat. Those three mares were all consigned by Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale agency on behalf of clients. Sikura said he bought Last Song on behalf of a partnership, while Madcap Escapade was purchased for the farm.

At Fasig-Tipton the night before, he paid $1.3 million for Diplomat Lady and $850,000 for Untouched Talent, both racing or broodmare prospects, and $325,000 for the stakes-producing mare Seeking Regina.

"We had very good yearling sales this year," Sikura said. "And we lost our best mare this year, Serena's Tune. We're aggressively trying to replenish any gaps in our program the best way we can. When you have the opportunity to broaden your base and improve quality, you keep moving forward."

Serena's Tune, an 8-year-old daughter of champion Serena's Song, was euthanized in September after developing laminitis. She died just days after her third foal, a Vindication yearling colt, brought $2.8 million at Keeneland's September yearling auction.

The difference in price for $6 million first-time broodmare Madcap Escapade and her $4.5 million dam Sassy Pants, who already has produced a pair of Grade 1 winners, pointed up a strong trend in the market. Buyers have bid most strongly for young, unproven mares.

"It seems like everyone wants a young mare they can breed to who they want and be the architect of their careers," Sikura said. "Maybe it's the same mentality as everyone wanting to breed to freshman sires."

Keeneland's opener produced solid prices, but nothing in the early hours appeared poised to threaten the $9 million world mare record that Ashado set at last year's edition of that sale. That may have been partly due to the absence of the man who bought Ashado that day: Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.

Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, did not seem unduly worried about Maktoum's absence, reminding that Maktoum's Darley organization already had splashed out at previous sales, publicly or privately, for relatives to some of the key mares on offer on Monday - including for Madcap Escapade's half-sister Dubai Escapade.

"John Ferguson and his advisors have been here," Russell said, referring to Maktoum's chief bloodstock advisor. "I'm sure they had representation here. But November for Darley has always been a place where they've purchased very selectively, horses of the likes of Ashado. Sheikh Mohammed loves to race, and that's where his focus is. But when something unique raises its head in the market, they're usually in position to buy it if they want it.

"But we'd love to have those two 747's parked at the airport," he added.

The Keeneland November auction will continue through Nov. 19, with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.