09/11/2002 11:00PM

Bidders will go all-out for quality

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, a $1.1 million Hennessy colt was the session-leader at day four of the Keeneland September yearling sale. The colt - a son of the unraced Alydar mare Altair - sparked a three-way bidding battle among J. B. McKathan, Eugene Melnyk's representative Robert McMartin, and Demi O'Byrne, who was bidding by phone.

O'Byrne, who usually buys for Michael Tabor, won out. That was fitting considering that Tabor is a Coolmore Stud client and the expensive colt's sire stands at Coolmore.

The FitzGerald/Keogh sales agency owned by James Keogh and Jim FitzGerald sold the colt.

"We knew we had a nice horse," said Jim FitzGerald. "He was vetted more than any other colt we've had, about 25 times, and we had everybody we needed on him. We thought he'd bring good money, but that was above what we thought. We'd pegged him at a half-million plus. It just goes to show you, it doesn't matter where in the sale your horse falls, if you have a good horse, the buyers will find you.

"There's plenty of money around, but mediocre horses, they just don't want to see them."

The sale prompted a round of applause in the Keeneland sale pavilion and proved that even on day four of the auction, buyers were still willing to pay seven figures for horses they consider exceptional.

During the auction's third session Wednesday, 258 yearlings were sold for a total of $27,137,500, down 27 percent from the third session last year, when 264 lots brought $37,196,500. Average price for the day dropped 25 percent to $105,184, and the median slumped by 12 percent to $88,500.

The highest-priced lot on Wednesday was a $450,000 Thunder Gulch filly that Robert Scanlon, agent, bought from BryLynn Farm. Taylor Made Sales consigned the filly on behalf of BryLynn. The filly is out of the Far North mare Andriana B. and is a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Crafty C. T. and to Grade 3-placed stakes winner Carmen's Baby.

Through Wednesday, the auction had sold a total of 635 yearlings for $127,713,500. The three-day gross figure was down 26 percent from last year, when just 617 lots sold. Average price stood at $201,124, down 29 percent from last year, and the median of $130,000 was off by 16 percent.

Cigar Mile may be Red Bullet's finale

Dan Hall, manager of Frank Stronach's Adena Springs operation, said Thursday that Stronach's 2000 Preakness Stakes winner, Red Bullet, will retire at the end of the season.

"More than likely he will stand at the Kentucky farm," said Hall. In addition to its Midway, Ky., farm, Adena also has operations in Canada and Florida. Hall said the colt would not be syndicated.

"We're pointing him for the Cigar Mile," Hall said, adding that Adena will probably not set a fee until after the Nov. 30 race.

Red Bullet, by Unbridled out of the Caro mare Cargo, beat 2000 Ken-

tucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus in the Preakness Stakes for his biggest career victory so far. To date, the 4-year-old Red Bullet has won 5 of 12 starts for earnings of more than $1.1 million.

Shadai gets Japanese Derby winner

Shadai Stallion Station representative Naohiro Hosoda confirmed Wednesday evening that the farm in Hokkaido, Japan, will stand Japanese Derby winner Tanino Gimlet in 2003. The farm announced Wednesday that it had purchased 2002 Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem for stud duty in 2003.

This year, Shadai's powerful stallion roster was depleted by the deaths of three popular stallions. Japan's leading sire, Sunday Silence, died in August after contracting a bacterial infection and then foundering. His death followed the deaths of popular Shadai stallions End Sweep, a former leading juvenile sire in the United States, and El Condor Pasa.

Hosoda said that the farm is not finished restocking its stallion ranks but declined to say what horses in America currently are under consideration for the 2003 breeding season in Japan.

"But we are still looking at horses," Hosoda said.

* Stallion Access is taking entries for its Nov. 8 fall sale of selected stallion seasons and shares at Newtown Paddocks in Lexington, Ky. Entries for the auction close on Sept. 20.