09/13/2005 12:00AM

Bidding war ends at $9.7M

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Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum outbid Coolmore Stud to acquire Hip No. 384 for a Keeneland September sale record of $9.7 million.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - For the first time since the 1980's, a bidding war between Coolmore Stud and Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum pushed a Keeneland yearling's price to $9.7 million.

When the hammer fell and applause erupted at Tuesday's second session of the Keeneland September yearling sale, it was Maktoum who held the receipt for a son of top sire Storm Cat and Grade 1-winning millionaire Tranquility Lake that Mill Ridge Sales consigned for Marty and Pam Wygod.

The $9.7 million price tag made Hip No. 384 the third most expensive yearling ever, following B.B.A. England's $13.1 million purchase of Seattle Dancer in 1985 and Maktoum's $10.2 million bid for Snaafi Dancer in 1983. Both of those prices came at the Keeneland July select sale, which has been put on seemingly permanent hiatus as the September version has increased in importance. Tuesday's $9.7 million Storm Cat colt easily broke the September sale's previous record of $8 million, set last year when Fusao Sekiguchi bought another Storm Cat colt, that one out of Welcome Surprise.

Boosted by Maktoum's 13 yearling purchases worth more than $25 million, the session saw 184 lots bring in $98,502,000, up 13 percent from last year's second-session total of $87,463,000 for 179 yearlings. Average also jumped, by 10 percent, from last year's $488,620 to $535,337. Both the gross and average sales set records for a single auction session. Median climbed 14 percent, from $260,000 to $272,500.

Coolmore boss John Magnier and his regular buying partner Michael Tabor, who also attended the Keeneland auction's second session on Tuesday, had been harrying Maktoum all day. Most obviously, Magnier was underbidder on Hip No. 345, the Lane's End agency's Storm Cat colt out of 2000 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Status. After a long, tense bidding duel in which Magnier tried throwing his rival with several unusually large raises, Maktoum saw Magnier off with a bid of $6.3 million. That, it turned out, was merely a skirmish. The real war was over Hip No. 384. Everyone on the grounds saw it coming, and the only real questions were where the price would stop, and on whose bid.

Magnier and Tabor forwent their usual habit of bidding from a pavilion doorway, opting instead to bid from behind the auctioneer's stand. They arrived out back early, a few yards behind Maktoum's customary bidding spot. Maktoum walked past them to take up his position just in front of the bidspotters' stand, but the proximity was not lost on the sellers, buyers, and spectators milling around the area to watch the auction. A buzz of anticipation ran through the crowd, but several horses went through the ring without incident, and then the Coolmore group walked away. But rather than head inside the pavilion, Magnier and Tabor encamped on the other side of a tall wooden partition that divides the back bidding area. From this spot, their presence hidden but very keenly felt, the Coolmore team locked horns with Maktoum over Hip No. 384.

When the price hit $8.6 million on Maktoum's bid, Magnier attempted a coup de grace by raising to $9 million, a jump that awed even auctioneer Justin Holmberg, but not for long.

"Nine million? Well, I'll be darned," he commented, before plucking a $9.1 million reply from Maktoum.

"I couldn't move," said Mill Ridge owner Alice Chandler, to whom the Wygods sent the yearling for sales preparation in May. "I was paralyzed. If someone had goosed me, I wouldn't even have jumped."

Magnier and Maktoum continued to fire at each other over the partition until finally there was a thoughtful pause after Maktoum's $9.7 million bid. Holmberg gamely asked for $10 million from Coolmore, but the Irish did not respond. When the hammer fell, the usually taciturn Maktoum beamed a broad smile amid popping flashbulbs, then swept through the crowd and back out of the pavilion with his entourage and a long trail of press in tow.

"This was a horse that Sheikh Mohammed felt was the best Storm Cat he had seen, full stop," Ferguson said after signing the ticket on his client's behalf. "He is an outstanding athlete, from a very good family, from the same cross as Giant's Causeway - Storm Cat on Rahy - and is out of a sensational mare. It's very unusual for there to be a situation where there is little to criticize, and this was one.

"From the first moment that Sheikh Mohammed saw him, he felt it was very, very important that this colt race for his brothers and Godolphin."

A rumor surfaced before the Deauville select yearling sale in France last month that Maktoum would not purchase any horses sired by Coolmore horses, speculation that made the Coolmore-Maktoum rivalries at Keeneland seem more pointed. But Ferguson pooh-poohed that suggestion, calling Coolmore "friends and competitors" and reminding that Maktoum earlier this year bought a world-record $5.2 million colt by Coolmore's Tale of the Cat at Fasig-Tipton's Calder 2-year-old sale.

"Sheikh Mohammed and our team look for the best individuals and will try to buy them, regardless of who they are by," Ferguson said.

With that, Maktoum resumed his spending spree. His party alone bought 13 yearlings for $25,725,000, and his brothers - Sheikh Hamdan of Shadwell and Sheikh Maktoum of Gainsborough Stud - had bought more than $8 million worth of yearlings.

All this was on top of their expenditures at Monday's opening session, where the Maktoums had contributed more than $20 million to Keeneland's coffers, including Sheikh Mohammed's $3.5 million sale-topping bid for a Storm Cat-Serena's Song colt that Denali sold for Bob and Beverly Lewis.

Monday's opener saw 21 million-dollar lots, a single-session record for the September auction. Boosted both by aggressive buyers and by a record catalog of 5,110 yearlings, gross shot up by 40 percent to $88,712,000, average soared 27 percent to $471,872, and median increased by 14 percent to $300,000. The buyback rate was a moderate 25 percent.

By Tuesday, those figures looked quaint. The second session's toll of million-dollar yearlings was 17, and five of those sold for $3 million or more. Most were bought by the Maktoums or Coolmore, but there were rare exceptions. Lee Einsidler went to $3.9 million for a Storm Cat colt out of Tomisue's Delight consigned by Lane's End, and Eugene Melnyk paid $2 million for an A.P. Indy colt out of Call Me Fleet that the Hill 'n' Dale agency sold.

Well away from the auction ring, things were quiet back at Barn 11, where Chandler and Mill Ridge manager Bayne Welker were sitting in director's chairs and contemplating the wonders of today's Thoroughbred marketplace. Their $9.7 million charge, stabled toward the far end of the barn, looked very like the other horses when one looked at him through the metal grate of his stall door. But he was not like any other horse that Keeneland has seen since the 1980's.

"The thing about this colt is his attitude," Chandler said. "He let me stand out there and hold him while people were taking his picture. He's got a tremendous disposition and personality and attitude."

"He kind of sets himself apart and has his own aura," added Welker.

He certainly does now.

Top yearlings at public auction

YEARNAMESEXPEDIGREESALE PRICE
1985Seattle DancerCNijinsky II - My CharmerKee. July$13,100,000
1983Snaafi DancerCNorthern Dancer - My BupersKee. July10,200,000
2005unnamedCStorm Cat - Tranquility LakeKee. Sept.9,700,000
1984Imperial FalconCNorthern Dancer - BalladeKee. July8,250,000
2004unnamedCStorm Cat - Welcome SurpriseKee. Sept.8,000,000
1984JareerCNorthern Dancer - Fabuleux JaneKee. July7,100,000
1985Laa EtaabCNijinsky II - Crimson SaintKee. July7,000,000
2000Tasmanian TigerCStorm Cat - Hum AlongKee. Sept.6,800,000
1984AmjaadCSeattle Slew - DesireeKee. July6,500,000
2001Van NistelrooyCStorm Cat - HaloryKee. Sept.6,400,000
2005unnamedCStorm Cat - Secret StatusKee. Sept.6,300,000

Source: Keeneland Association

Fireworks on day two

Leading sellers Tuesday at the Keeneland September sale, the second and final session of select yearlings:

HIPSEXPEDIGREEBUYER PRICE
384CStorm Cat - Tranquility LakeJ. Ferguson$9,700,000
345CStorm Cat - Secret StatusJ. Ferguson6,300,000
380CStorm Cat - Tomisue's DelightCircle E3,900,000
394FStorm Cat - Warrior QueenD.L. O'Byrne3,800,000
348CStorm Cat - Serena's TuneShadwell Estate3,100,000
357CA.P. Indy - Snow ForestD.L. O'Byrne2,500,000
273CA.P. Indy - MagicalmysterycatJ. Ferguson2,300,000
429CA.P. Indy - Call Me FleetE. Melnyk2,000,000

Source: Keeneland Association