11/07/2005 1:00AM

Ashado sells for $9 million

Champion racemare Ashado graces the sales ring at Keeneland Monday, underneath the $9 million figure Sheikh Mohammed bid to acquire her.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - In a game that is notorious for breaking owners' hearts and bank accounts, Jack and Laurie Wolf have not just won, they have won big - starting with one of their first purchases, three-time Grade 1 winner Harlan's Holiday.

They cashed in their biggest chip at Keeneland November on Monday, selling champion filly Ashado to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum for $9 million, a world-record price for a mare at auction. But the sale came with mixed feelings.

The Wolfs and their partners, Paul Saylor and Johns Martin, bought Ashado, a Saint Ballado filly, for $170,000 just three years ago at the Keeneland September yearling sale and watched in delight as she became a seven-time Grade 1 winner, an earner of $3,931,440, and 2004's champion 3-year-old filly. She gave her owners the ride of a lifetime, and parting with her was not easy.

But it was very, very profitable. For a week before Monday's opening session of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, as bidders viewed Ashado in the Taylor Made consignment, the most often-heard question was, "What do you think Ashado will bring?"

Ashado's trainer, Todd Pletcher, and Jack Wolf bet on it, writing their predictions inside the covers of their sales catalogs. Wolf, who said the 4-year-old broodmare prospect sold without a reserve price, guessed she would bring between $7 million and $8 million. Pletcher, who neatly printed the figure $9 million in blue ink in his catalog, won that wager. But he was sorry to lose the filly.

"It saddens you when a horse like this goes out of your barn," said Pletcher, a former D. Wayne Lukas protege. "But it's sort of the ultimate reward. It's what you're in the game for. I know as a trainer I can't keep them forever."

Bidding opened at $2 million and proceeded slowly at first, hanging for a long pause at $3 million and again at $5.4 million. But it soon settled into a battle between Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson, behind the bidding arena and the Coolmore team inside the pavilion. When auctioneer Ryan Mahan raised his gavel to close the sale, Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made, watching from behind the bidding arena near Ferguson's bidding spot, said quietly, "Oh, don't give up now!"

But give up they did - at least this time - and now Ashado will ship just a stone's throw from Keeneland to Maktoum's Jonabell Farm. Her breeding plans haven't been settled. ("It's unlucky to think of those things before you sign the ticket," Ferguson said.)

Ashado's price topped the record of $7.1 million paid for Cash Run here in 2003 and followed a run of high-priced mares that began across town on Sunday when Riskaverse brought $5 million at the Fasig-Tipton November selected fall mixed sale.

Ashado helped Keeneland post huge gains for its opening session, which sold 180 lots for $98,121,000, up from last year's opening-day gross of $80,976,500 for 213 horses. The average of $545,117 was up from last year's $380,171, and the $315,000 median soared from the 2004 figure of $185,000.

Ashado was one of 20 horses on Monday at Keeneland to bring $1 million or more. But none was expected to even approach her price, and none did. The closest by

that point were $3.7 million A. P. Adventure, who went to Courtlandt Farm from the Taylor Made agency; $3.6 million Zing, whom Aaron and Marie Jones also bought from Taylor Made; and $3.1 million Fountain of Peace, sold to Coolmore principal John Magnier from the Lane's End agency.

Other lots at $2 million or more included $2.4 million Roar Emotion, in foal to A. P. Indy, whom Jess Jackson bought from the Hill 'n' Dale agency; $2.4 million Canda, whom Cheveley Park Stud bought from Lane's End, agent; $2.1 million Chimichurri, whom Jackson bought from Taylor Made, agent; $2.3 million Desert Tigress, whom London Thoroughbred Services bought from the Hill 'n' Dale agency; and $2 million Saudi Poetry, whom Courtlandt Farm bought from Taylor Made, agent.

One that didn't sell was Miss Du Bois, the dam of Film Maker carrying a half sibling to that Grade 1 winner, bought back for $2.5 million by Phillip Steinberg.

The string of million-dollar mares began Sunday night at Fasig-Tipton's sale, which produced six millionaire mares, led by Riskaverse. A multiple Grade 1 winner who earned more than $2 million, Riskaverse was purchased by an anonymous partnership represented by Eaton Sales principal Reiley McDonald. The sale was especially pleasing for consignor John Stuart, whose Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services sold Riskaverse on behalf of her owner and breeder, Peter Schiff. Schiff has been Stuart's client for about 20 years.

"I sold her third dam 18 years ago," Stuart said, referring to the Buckpasser mare Toll Booth, whom he sold for $475,000 when Schiff's father, John, dispersed his horses.

Two lots with close connections to this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies brought $3 million bids. The first was Wild Fit, a leading 2-year-old filly this season who finished second to Juvenile Fillies winner Folklore. Murray Smith and Ron Brewer sold Wild Fit through the Eaton agency. The winning bidder was Coolmore Stud agent Demi O'Byrne.

Folklore's dam, Contrive, went through the ring later and also brought $3 million, from Ferguson. Taylor Made consigned the Storm Cat mare in foal to Pleasantly Perfect.

Fasig-Tipton also offered a share in popular young sire Distorted Humor, which Bona Terra Farms sold for $1 million to Barry Weisbord, agent. Two lifetime breeding rights to Medaglia d'Oro brought $130,000 from Phillip McCarthy, agent, and $115,000 from Gallaghers Stud, respectively. And the session also included two stallion seasons auctioned to benefit Hurricane Katrina's victims. A season to Ashford stallion Fusaichi Pegasus brought $125,000, and one to Darley's Gainsborough resident Elusive Quality went for $100,000. Both sold to unidentified buyers.

Fasig-Tipton's single-session auction grossed $32,183,000 for 112 lots, up dramatically from last year's sale, when 201 horses brought $20,685,800. Average soared to $287,348 from last year's $102,914, and median also improved vastly, climbing from last season's $27,000 to $86,000. The only dim figure was the buyback rate, which rose from last year's extraordinarily low 16 percent to 31 percent. Two horses were bought back at prices over $1 million: Angara, offered by Martin Schwartz through the Bluewater agency, returned to her seller on a $2.2 million final bid, and My Trusty Cat, consigned by Hermitage Farm, went home at $1.7 million.

At Keeneland the following day, the Wolfs and their partners knew there would be no buying Ashado back.

After signing the ticket, Ferguson said that, from his perspective as a regular buyer of top bloodstock, Ashado's price was "not a huge surprise," given the interest in her and her rarity as a runner. But for Jack and Laurie Wolf, it was no less wonderful for being predictable.

"I was in awe," a teary-eyed Laurie Wolf said afterward. "I don't think I was breathing. She was worth every penny.

"We're not in breeding at the level she really deserves," she added, by way of explaining part of the partnership's reason for selling. "I can't wait to see her with a baby by her side and her head dropped in a field eating grass. She deserves that."