02/27/2002 12:00AM

Best horse saved for last

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MIAMI - It took all day for Fasig-Tipton's select 2-year-old sale at Calder to log a $1 million horse, but a chestnut Seeking the Gold colt finally broke the seven-figure barrier Tuesday night.

Selling just two lots before the end of the sale, the colt brought exactly $1 million from agent Demi O'Byrne as the day's only seven-figure horse. The colt helped the one-day auction post gains in average and gross, but the session had an alarming 45 percent official buyback rate and 71 withdrawals, many of them late scratches as consignors opted not to face rejection by a highly selective market.

A total of 139 horses sold for gross receipts of $29,479,00, up 5 percent from last year. Average rose 2 percent to $212,079, and median climbed 17 percent to $175,000. Buybacks also were up over last year, when the company reported 43 percent of the horses as unsold.

"I wish they liked them all," said Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson after the sale. "It doesn't take much to put someone off a horse. But if the horse looks right, vets right, and works right - look out."

The $1 million Seeking the Gold colt had looks, speed, and family. A chestnut with three white socks, a wide blaze, and a fashionable sire, he posted a fast 10.80 seconds breeze at the sale's first under-tack show. He also is the first foal out of the Last Tycoon mare Bounteous, whose family dripped black ink down to the bottom of the catalog page. Bounteous is out of the Irish Group 2 winner Fair of the Furze, making her a half-sister to European champion White Muzzle, German Group 2 winner Fair Question, and Irish stakes winner Elfaslah, who also is the dam of Group 1 winner Almutawakel.

"In my opinion, he was the obvious horse in the sale," said Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who bid and signed the ticket for O'Byrne, the agent representing Michael Tabor and John Magnier.

How Moynihan ended up with the ticket was a story that had horsemen talking in the Calder parking lot an hour after the sale ended.

Late in the afternoon, having already bought a $660,000 Arch-Mixed Appeal colt, a $650,000 Touch Gold-Marchesseaux filly, and $575,000 Phone Trick-Pert Lady colt, O'Byrne left the auction, apparently implying strongly that he was exasperated by a lack of acceptable horses late in the sale.

The horse Moynihan called "the obvious horse" had yet to sell at that point. When he came into the ring, O'Byrne was nowhere to be found, but the temperamental agent's theatrical pooh-poohing had not fooled the Seeking the Gold colt's seller, Ernie Paragallo. O'Byrne was present via John Moynihan's cell phone. Feigned lack of interest is a common ploy among major buyers who hope to get a bargain, either by causing other bidders to doubt a horse's quality or by worrying a consignor into making a lower reserve.

It didn't work in Paragallo's case, and the colt wasn't a steal. Buzz Chace, who privately bought the Seeking the Gold colt for Paragallo as a yearling from breeder WinStar Farm, told reporters after the sale that Paragallo's reserve had been $999,000.

O'Byrne was unavailable for comment, but Moynihan was effusive in praise of the striking colt.

"He looks like he can run two turns, he's fast, and he looks like he'll stay sound," Moynihan said. "He's got everything."

The Seeking the Gold colt capped a good day for consignor Robert Scanlon, who acted as selling agent for Paragallo and other clients. Scanlon, as agent, also sold the $575,000 Phone Trick colt to O'Byrne, a $550,000 Storm Cat-Fontemar colt to Patrick Biancone, and a $355,000 Holy Bull-Painted Pink colt to Pegasus Bloodstock, among others.

Scanlon wasn't the only consignor to hang up big prices. M and H Training and Sales, agent, sold the day's second most expensive lot, a $900,000 A.P. Indy-Lucinda K colt, to B. Wayne Hughes; Terry Oliver's consignment featured an $800,000 Seattle Slew-Sharp Call ridgling that Mike Gill bought; and Becky Thomas's Sequel Bloodstock sold a $720,000 Cherokee Run-Swazi's Moment colt to The Thoroughbred Corp.

But many consignments were strewn with buybacks or late outs, as buyers concentrated on a few top horses.

"Maybe the whole the 2-year-old market is readjusting," said Thomas, whose pinhooking operation has bought both weanlings and yearlings to resell as juveniles. "We need to evaluate carefully whether to go to sell in the 2-year-old market. A lot of these horses obviously brought high prices, and several brought high prices as weanlings. But if this is the 2-year-old market today, where $700,000 to $800,000 is the top and maybe there's one buyer willing to pay $1 million, is that worth buying so many yearlings at $150,000 to $250,000? Only a handful are going to sell at the top."