03/28/2007 12:00AM

Auction sees $900K top, record median


Some big-money sizzle returned to Ocala, Fla., on Wednesday when the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March select 2-year-old sale popped off a $900,000 bid for a sale-topping Forest Wildcat colt. Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, who has dominated juvenile sales this season, was the buyer.

The two-day auction, which was coming off a record-breaking performance in 2006, saw declines in gross and average but an increase to $82,000 in the median, breaking last year's record.

The two-day auction ended late Wednesday afternoon with 253 juveniles sold for $26,541,000, down 15 percent from last year's total of $31,044,000 for 286 horses. Average price also fell in 2007, slipping 3 percent from $108,545 to $104,905. But the median price of $82,000 was 9 percent higher than last year's record of $75,000.

Buybacks also rose, from 27 percent in 2006 to 33 percent this season.

The sale started off well on Tuesday but without the seven-figure prices seen this month at Fasig-Tipton's Calder sale in Miami and the Barretts auction in California. Wednesday's session didn't manage to crack the $1 million barrier, either, but Maktoum nudged the market's ceiling higher when he purchased Hip No. 276, the Forest Wildcat colt out of Whattacapote, by Capote. Jimmy Gladwell, a 2-year-old consignor who also often serves as a buying agent for Maktoum's Darley organization, signed the ticket on behalf of Maktoum's usual representative, John Ferguson.

The chestnut colt is a Kentucky-bred from the family of graded stakes performers Here's Zealous and There's Zealous. Eisaman Equine sold the sale topper at OBS after buying him at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale for $120,000. The colt was one of three horses to put in the day's fastest quarter-mile work at the auction's March 18 under-tack show, breezing in 21.20 seconds.

Hip No. 276's purchase price was considerably lower than last year's sale-record $1.8 million, which agent Buzz Chace paid for a Belong to Me colt now named Garifine.

But even with the lower prices at the top of the market, sellers like Barry and Shari Eisaman were finding profit for their best prospects. During Wednesday's session, 13 horses fetched final bids of $250,000 or more, and nine of those brought $300,000 and up. The sale's overall buyback rate, while higher than last year, was considerably lower than the 41 percent seen at the Fasig-Tipton Calder and Barretts auctions.

Even some who had not had a stellar day seemed to feel the market overall was good.

"It looked like good horses were bringing good money, and I'd say it was solid," seller Mark Roberts said Wednesday.

Best known as general manager of Adena Springs in Florida, Roberts also sells a few horses of his own each year. This year, he said, he did "no good" at the OBS March sale. But he didn't fault the market.

"I just didn't have the right horses," he said. "You don't always do well. The auction ring is the best test of what your horse is, and it doesn't usually lie."