Updated on 09/17/2011 12:24PM

Bidders stay aggressive


LEXINGTON, Ky. - outpaced all expectations at its Monday and Tuesday select sessions, and the flood of money they produced appeared to be trickling down to at least the first open session on Wednesday.

The 12-day auction's first two sessions drew buyers from around the world, and they bid with such abandon that even Keeneland officials were surprised. The two select sessions produced a staggering 27 seven-figure yearlings, including a $3.8 million Gone West filly and a $3.6 million Danzig colt.

Overall, the two select days sold 339 lots for $131,250,000, a stunning 31-percent increase in gross from last year, when 377 sold. Average leaped upward even farther, rising 45 percent to $387,168. And median jumped 35 percent, from $170,000 to $230,000.

Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, who often bids while cloistered in a private room on Keeneland's grounds, created the biggest stir late in Tuesday's session. Accompanied by a small entourage, he entered the pavilion with Jordan's Princess Haya bint al Hussein, an Olympic showjumping rider, and took up a row of seats near the ring where the horses are shown during bidding. This was only for starters: The real show began when Hip No. 522, a Gone West filly out of Touch of Greatness (Hero's Honor), came into the ring. Bids sprang from everywhere. The price shot past $3 million without any sign of stopping, until finally only Sheikh Mohammed and Richard Santulli of Jayeff B Stables were left standing. Santulli eventually bowed out, leaving Sheikh Mohammed with the filly and consignor Three Chimneys, agent, with a $3.8 million paycheck.

The $3.8 million filly, a full sister to the successful young sire Elusive Quality, undoubtedly will be the auction's sale topper. The top colt wasn't far behind her in price: John Magnier and Michael Tabor bought that lot, a $3.6 million Danzig-Queena colt from Middlebrook, agent, on Monday.

By Wednesday, with the select sessions over, prices settled down to less heady levels. But selling remained strong, especially in the $90,000 to $250,000 range, where pinhookers homed in on likely juvenile resale prospects. Pinhooker Jimmy Gladwell signed the ticket on the day's session leader, a $700,000 Capote colt out of She's a Talent, though it was unlikely the colt would resell. Gladwell said he bought him for an undisclosed client who probably would race the colt in the United States.

The departure of some heavy hitters gave earlier underbidders a chance to get some expensive horseflesh. Stan Fulton, who had represented the top of the market at Fasig-Tipton's July and Saratoga auctions, was not among the top five buyers at Keeneland's September select sessions on Monday and Tuesday. But at the first open session, he returned to prominence and purchased a $675,000 Distorted Humor-It's Personal colt from Woods Edge Farm, agent. He did it again about 100 lots later, paying $675,000 for a Silver Charm-Proud Run colt sold by Carmichael Sales, agent for Aberdeen Partnership.

Those prices reflected the fact that there was still plenty of competition among buyers for horses they liked. And not all of the select money had left on Wednesday. Sheikh Mohammed's regular agent, John Ferguson, was still active, buying a number of horses that included a $400,000 Honour and Glory-Dixieland Blues colt from Eaton Sales, agent.

With the Keeneland July sale off the calendar this year due to the catalog-reducing effects of mare reproductive loss syndrome, the fervent bidding on September yearlings suggested buyers were taking a last opportunity to fill their orders for the season.

"They're really scouring the sales grounds," Runnymede Farm manager Martin O'Dowd said of buyers. "It doesn't matter who has it or where it is, if there's a good horse out there the horsemen will find it. It doesn't matter if you have the last horse in the farthest stall of the farthest barn, they'll find it."

Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell, speaking after the end of the select sessions Tuesday night, expressed the hope that strong early sessions would have a "rollover" effect, pushing bidders that were shut out early to stay around and bid on horses later in the sale.

That would be good for sellers, but less advantageous to the yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers who were finally getting to make some bids at Wednesday's open session. Pinhookers must buy low and sell high, and buying low wasn't easy with men like Sheikh Mohammed and Eugene Melnyk still phoning in bids.

Still, the optimism at Keeneland was strong enough that even the pinhookers could find a silver lining to the increased competition over horses they wanted. Like Keeneland, they were also hoping for a little trickle-down effect from the select-session boom.

"After all, the 2-year-old sales benefit when people get shut out trying to buy yearlings, too," mused pinhooker Eddie Woods. "When the yearling market was a little softer, people were really loading up on them, and that's harder on us. But when they come out of the yearling sales a little short on the quantity of horses they want, they're more likely to come shopping at the 2-year-old sales the next year."