09/10/2002 12:00AM

Big spenders bid aggressively


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Led by Michael Tabor's bloodstock adviser Demi O'Byrne, the Thoroughbred world's big spenders took their hands out of their pockets and bid high Tuesday at the second session.

As of 6 p.m. Eastern, O'Byrne had done his bit to support the select yearling economy with purchases including the $2.5 million session leader, an Storm Cat-Clear Mandate colt consigned by Lane's End; a $1.5 million Danzig-Catchascatchcan colt from Castleton Lyons (Paramount Sales, agent); and a $330,000 Kingmambo-Victorica colt from Lantern Hill, agent.

O'Byrne wasn't the only agent spreading wealth Tuesday at the 12-day auction's second and final select session. After staying relatively quiet at the Keeneland July and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga boutique auctions, both O'Byrne and Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's representative, John Ferguson, found the September catalog to their liking and showered bids on horses they liked.

Other Tuesday millionaires included a $1.6 million Dixieland Band-Hidden Garden colt that Ferguson bought from Lane's End, agent; a $1.5 million A. P. Indy colt out of European champion Bosra Sham and a $1 million full brother to High Yield that Ferguson purchased from Lane's End, agent, and Eaton Sales, agent, respectively; and a $1.45 million Gone West-Daijin filly that Live Oak Plantation owner Charlotte Weber purchased from Hill 'n' Dale, agent.

O'Byrne may have gotten the session leader, but Ferguson was the day's hardest-working agent. By mid-afternoon, he already had signed for 10 lots totaling $5,895,000. And O'Byrne and Ferguson weren't the only bidders lighting up the board. North American racing interests also were playing hard, with Eugene Melnyk, Bob and Beverly Lewis, and Frank Stronach all buying at high levels.

Melnyk was the tenacious underbidder on the $2.5 million Storm Cat colt but backed down in the face of a barrage of return bids that suggested O'Byrne would pay as much as it took to acquire the colt. Certainly the colt's pedigree was alluring. His dam, Clear Mandate, is a multiple Grade 1 winner and a millionaire herself. And her first foal to race, a 2-year-old Storm Cat colt named Newfoundland, is a winner in Ireland. O'Byrne bought Newfoundland at last year's September sale for $3.3 million.

Opening prices decline sharply Monday's opening session produced a $2.4 million session-topper but nevertheless posted sharp declines from last year. The opener sold 195 lots for gross receipts of $50,431,000, down 16 percent from last year's sale, when 156 yearlings brought $60,331,000. Average fell 33 percent to $258,621, and median declined 32 percent to $170,000. But the buyback rate improved, dropping from last year's 36 percent to 28 percent at this year's opener.

The declines were in line with those seen at select sales earlier this summer at Keeneland in July and Fasig-Tipton in Saratoga, and Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said he was not surprised. "We have the same buyers here that we usually have," he said. "They just seem to have less money to spend on horses this year."

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas signed for Monday's $2.4 million session-topper, a Danzig colt out of the Grade 2-winning Alydar mare Aquilegia; Lukas signed the ticket on behalf of an undisclosed partnership that sources said included Coolmore Stud associates. Helen Alexander's Middlebrook Farm, agent, consigned the colt. He is a full brother to Group 3 winner Bertolini and a half-brother to stakes winner Amelia.

That was the first lot through the ring from Middlebrook, which went on to enjoy an exceptionally prosperous day. Ferguson purchased a $1.65 million Deputy Minister-Highest Glory colt from the consignment, and Lukas also signed for a $575,000 Danzig-Flying Fairy colt.

Middlebrook's good run continued Tuesday, when Frank Stronach bought a Seeking the Gold colt out of Grade 2 winner Wandering Star for $800,000.

"I have no complaints, obviously," Middlebrook's Alexander said. "Like everybody else, I was concerned. For the first and second days of showing our horses, we were down about a third on the number of times we were showing our horses and on the people we were seeing, and our repository interest was way down, too. I thought it was important to be conservative in my estimate of what a horse would make."

Smaller sellers, too, like first-time September consignor Warrendale, were also rewarded for setting practical, realistic reserves.

"I'm being stringent with my clients," said Warrendale owner K. T. Roden, who had sold two of three horses on Tuesday by early afternoon in the $95,000 to $150,000 range. "We're in a recession, and we have to be conservative, unless you want to take your horse back and race him. We've done well."

That kind of consignor flexibility helped keep the buyback rate running below last year's level.

"When these breeders planned these matings three years ago, the world was a completely different place," Keeneland's Russell said. "I'm very happy that the RNA [reserve not attained] rate is lower. I think consignors have made every effort to apprise their clients of the change in the market, and that shows."