09/10/2008 12:00AM

$7.7M bid equals no sale

Photos By Z/Keeneland
Hip No. 127, a colt by A.P. Indy and out of Horse of the Year Azeri, failed to reach his reserve - even on a bid of $7.7 million.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - On a day when million-dollar fillies dominated the Keeneland September yearling sale's opening session Monday, the big story turned out to be about one of the buybacks. And not just any "reserve not attained," either: This was an A.P. Indy colt whose $7.7 million price fell below his undisclosed minimum asking price, making him the most expensive buyback in Keeneland's history.

At a session that saw declines in gross and average, fillies proved especially lucrative. Four of the session's five seven-figure horses, including the $3.1 million A.P. Indy-Chimichurri session-topper, were fillies. Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum bought the session-topper and was leading buyer overall with nine purchases totaling $8,825,000.

The session sold 154 yearlings for $56,047,000, down 17 percent from last year's first session. The average price of $363,942 was a decline of 8 percent. The $300,000 median was level with last year. Buybacks rose from 24 percent to 29 percent.

But it was the would-be $7.7 million colt, Hip No. 127, who had people talking. Already named Vallenzeri, he had a right to be a high-priced success at the auction. He is by 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, one of the most sought-after sires on the planet and a current favorite of Maktoum, the Thoroughbred business's most powerful buyer. He also is the first foal out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri. When bids quickly popped out all over the bidding arena, no one was surprised, though as the bidding escalated beyond $5 million, a murmur of surprise went around the ring.

The hammer finally fell at $7.7 million, apparently to a bidder inside the pavilion. But as horsemen clamored to know who had splashed out so much for the chestnut, the young man whose job it is to proffer receipts for winning bidders to sign remained at rest on one side of the pavilion. He confirmed the surprising news that $7.7 million had not been enough for the colt's breeder, Michael Paulson of the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust. Paulson had consigned the horse with Hill 'n' Dale Sales.

Vallenzeri left the ring the most expensive buyback ever at Keeneland, breaking the previous buyback record of $7.5 million for the Northern Dancer colt Ajdal. Vallenzeri also was the second seven-figure buyback of the day, following the Claiborne agency's $1 million buyback of Hip No. 69, a Storm Cat-Starry Dreamer colt.

Paulson said he was entertaining offers.

"He's a tremendous horse and a fine example of what a yearling should look like," he said. "We were hoping he'd bring a little more. He came close, but he just came up a little shy. It isn't all bad, because we were hoping whoever bought him would let us buy a small interest in him. He's like a family member to us.

"We have several people interested, so hopefully we'll find some owners who will let us keep a small interest. Our ultimate goal is to find him a good home with people who will give him the best opportunity to hopefully become a racing legend like his mother."

It wasn't clear where the live money for Hip No. 127 had dried up, making it difficult to assess where the market put his value. But the auction's biggest whale, Maktoum, did not make a bid, according to his representative, John Ferguson.

Instead, Maktoum sprang for Hip No. 147, Stonestreet Stable's daughter of Chimichurri, whose $3.1 million price easily outpaced last year's top filly price of $1.6 million. Gainesway, agent, was the consignor.

Maktoum has had great success with A.P. Indy's progeny, most notably with champion Bernardini and 2008 Grade 1 winner Music Note, but he was looking at more than the sire line when he bid for this one, Ferguson said.

"It's so hard to breed a filly to look like that," Ferguson said. "You have an outstanding sire and an outstanding mare - he deserves to be paid for it," a reference to breeder Jess Jackson.

Fillies were in strong demand. Maktoum warmed up with a $1.7 million bid early for Hip No. 56, an Unbridled's Song half-sister to 2004 sprint champion and Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Speightstown. The chestnut filly is out of Canadian juvenile champion Silken Cat and by the 1995 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner. The Unbridled's Song filly is a product of Aaron and Marie Jones's highly successful breeding program, and the Joneses' regular agent, Taylor Made Sales, consigned the filly.

Hip No. 56 was the first yearling to crack $1 million, and she was followed by another $1.7 million filly, Hip No. 126, an Empire Maker half-sister to Arch that the Briggs and Cromartie agency bought from Middlebrook Farm, agent. Other high-priced horses Monday were Hip No. 68, a $1.2 million Storm Cat filly out of Starrer that Hill 'n' Dale bloodstock services director Donato Lanni purchased from Hill 'n' Dale on behalf of an anonymous client; and Hip No. 98, a $1 million Giant's Causeway-Voodoo Dancer colt that Jon Kelly bought from David Hager's Idle Hour Farm agency.

Ferguson described the market as similar to last year's but "stickier," meaning buyers were more selective.

But there were high points for sellers. Idle Hour's $1 million Giant's Causeway colt, for example, was a personal best for Hager.

"This is the first one we've sold for $1 million or more at auction," said Hager, who sold the colt on behalf of Greenhills Farm in New York. "I'm as happy for my clients as I am for myself."

Hager said his colt was "the kind of colt that makes you confident," but he acknowledged that many sellers were concerned about the prevailing economic cloudiness, increasing costs of breeding and raising horses, and buyers' intense scrutiny of horses.

"I think people are cautious," he said. "You have to come in here with the right horse that gets through all the right hoops. We had a lot of European - and especially English - and Japanese appeal with this horse. But we felt like maybe the Americans are approaching things a little more cautiously. From what I'm seeing, the Europeans have a little more intense look about them. Even though the European economy is softening a little bit, they're here to buy horses. I think this might be their last really good opportunity to buy here from a currency standpoint."

That's good news for sellers with horses that fit the bill and for bargain-hunting buyers.

"If someone is thinking of buying a racehorse, this year would be a good year to do it," Ferguson said. "I think there will be value to be had throughout the course of the year. But it's still hard to buy a good one."

The auction has a record catalog of 5,555 yearlings and runs through Sept. 23. Sessions begin daily at 10 a.m., except on the dark day of Sept. 12.