11/25/2009 12:00AM

African sire proving himself in Bluegrass

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - It was the kind of lucky moment every breeder dreams of. Gerry Aschinger, the owner of War Horse Place here, was leading a weanling colt up to the Keeneland auction ring last Sunday, the last day of the November breeding stock sales, when he got a call from a client. The weanling's older half-brother Twin Sparks had set a six-furlong world record the day before at Turf Paradise, when he won the Caballo del Sol Handicap in 1:06.49.

Suddenly, the weanling on the end of Aschinger's shank looked a lot more expensive than he had 24 hours earlier.

"I dropped the shank in my wife's hand and ran right up to the sales office to put in the update," Aschinger said.

The auctioneers announced the update, but some savvy bidders clearly already knew. The weanling colt, by the Aschingers's sire Kitalpha, sold for about twice their appraisal, bringing $100,000 from Lisa Lex.

The sale also was a home run for Kitalpha. The 10-year-old Mr. Prospector stallion is a full brother to Kingmambo and stands for $12,500. The Aschingers sold two weanlings by him Sunday at Keeneland: the $100,000 colt out of Sparklin Lil and, earlier in the afternoon, an $85,000 filly out of Mama Bear that went to Michael J. Morrison. Those weanlings from Kitalpha's first North American crop were the two highest-priced horses to sell Sunday.

Kitalpha has had a long, winding journey from Africa. The Niarchos family bred him in Kentucky from the great Miesque, but after the colt underwent knee surgery at 3, they sold him as an unraced 4-year-old stallion prospect to a Zimbabwe syndicate led by breeder John Harris. Kitalpha launched his stud career at Rumbavu Park Stud in Harare. From his first crop, he sired Zimbabwe's 2007 juvenile champion, Frogwatch. In 2008, another first-crop runner, Killaridge, became the country's 3-year-old champion, and second-crop runner Rebecca's Fleet was named Zimbabwe's Horse of the Year. But by then Zimbabwe's turbulent political situation was overtaking Kitalpha's career.

Bloodstock agent Dick Lawson contacted Aschinger and his wife, Dana, about Kitalpha in November 2007.

"He said there was a full brother to Kingmambo that was under stress," Aschinger recalled. "He was being relocated out of Zimbabwe in the middle of the night for quarantine in Johannesburg because the Zimbabwe government was confiscating the aristocrats' racehorses and farms, and we had a limited amount of time to make a decision."

With only e-mailed photographs and the pedigree to go on, the Aschingers decided to buy Kitalpha. To satisfy import regulations, the Aschingers quarantined Kitalpha for 40 days on an island off Africa's coast and then shipped him to New York via the Netherlands and Paris. He finally arrived in Kentucky in March 2008.

"The whole trip took about 120 days and 30 some thousand dollars in transportation and quarantine costs," Aschinger said. "Of course, he looked like he just got out of a concentration camp. I thought, 'I would not have bought this horse if I'd gone to look at him in South Africa.' But he's simply gotten better and better, both in the way he looks, which is phenomenal now, and in the results of his racing progeny in South Africa."

Kitalpha's South African runners include three Group 1-placed horses.

The Aschingers decided to sell two to get a commercial record for their sire. And when people came shopping for them at the farm before the auction, Aschinger told them they would be on offer at Keeneland.

"They all showed up," he said of the bidders.

There will likely be more Kitalphas to choose from in the next few years. After his late arrival, he covered an abbreviated book of 67 mares in 2008. That rose to 130 in 2009, plus 22 more bred on Southern Hemisphere time this summer.

Tattersalls starts strong

The Tattersalls December foal sale kicked off Wednesday in Newmarket, England, with 159 weanlings bringing a combined $2,023,714, for an average of about $12,727 and an approximate median of $6,487. The buyback rate was 31 percent. The gross for the 2009 opening session at the four-day sale was quadruple the opening-day gross at last year's five-day auction, when just 76 horses, out of 189 offered, sold. The 2009 opening-day average doubled, and the median rose 85 percent.

Wednesday's session-topper was a Royal Applause-Three Gifts colt that James Read's Selwood Bloodstock bought for about $71,893.