04/13/2004 11:00PM

Big spenders offset scratches, RNA's

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Select 2-year-olds have become an especially hot commodity this year, and the Keeneland April 2-year-old sale proved the point yet again when it achieved a sale-record top price of $3.3 million Tuesday evening. The auction also set new marks for gross, average, and median.

The $3.3 million juvenile was Hip No. 124, a Pulpit colt from the family of Grade 1 winner and $3 million earner Albert the Great. Consigned by Niall Brennan, agent, the colt went to Demi O'Byrne on behalf of his usual clients, Coolmore Stud and Michael Tabor. Coolmore employee Aisling Duignan signed the ticket for the colt, who sold for $170,000 to Mike Ryan, agent, at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale.

The auction saw a high number of withdrawals, with 75 horses scratching after Keeneland decided to cancel its second and final under-tack show on Monday. Most consignors applauded Keeneland's decision to cancel the preview after a Pulpit filly suffered a fatal injury in sloppy going at the track that morning. But the unexpected loss of the breeze show also deprived consignors of a second chance to show off their horses, or to let horses redeem unsatisfactory works from the April 5 preview. Once the sale got under way Tuesday afternoon, it became clear that some consignors had opted to scratch horses rather than see them go unsold in the auction ring.

But the 101 horses that remained in the catalog and reached their reserve prices helped push Keeneland's 2-year-old auction to new highs. In addition to the record $3.3 million Pulpit colt, the sale rang up a record gross of $22,012,000, a record average of $217,941, and a record median of $135,000.

However, the market was volatile. Eighty-two juveniles, or 45 percent of the horses offered, failed to bring their consignors' required minimum prices.

"The RNA's [reserves not attained] were high," Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, acknowledged after the sale, "and we were fearful of that going into the sale because of the cancellation of the gallop show."

As for the sale-topper, a son of the stakes-winning Vice Regent mare In My Cap, Russell said, "We expected him to top the sale, but we didn't expect him to bring that price."

The $3.3 million Pulpit colt was one of two seven-figure lots sold at the one-day auction. The other was Hip No. 232, a Dixie Union-Sneaky Quiet colt that O'Byrne bought for $1.4 million from Solitary Oak Farm (Danny Pate), agent. The colt previously sold for $160,000 at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale, where White Horse Stables bought him.

In all, seven horses sold for $500,000 or more, indicating that buyers were ready and willing to spend, if they saw a horse they liked and felt they had gotten enough information from the abbreviated under-tack sessions.

Ecclesiastic heads Vance dispersal

The estate of Jeanne Vance also sold seven older runners at the Keeneland April auction. Of those, the most expensive turned out to be another Pulpit colt, a $775,000 son of Starry Dreamer that Joe Allen bought. The colt, named Ecclesiastic, is a 3-year-old winner with earnings of $54,490. Vance acquired him as a yearling for $500,000 at the 2002 Keeneland September sale.

The seven older horses were sold at the end of the session and collectively brought $2,025,000 for an average price of $289,286.

The Vance estate also sold three 2-year-olds in the main body of the auction. The most expensive of those was Foxglove, who brought $750,000. Buzz Chace, agent, bought the Fusaichi Pegasus colt for Aaron and Marie Jones. Vance originally bought Foxglove, a son of champion Silverbulletday's half-sister Rokeby Rosie, for $900,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga yearling sale last year.

The Eaton Sales agency handled the Vance estate's consignment.

Pulpit the next Mr. Prospector?

The sale results told the tale: Pulpit is one of the hottest young sires around. It's fairly easy to see why. The Claiborne Farm stallion, a 10-year-old A.P. Indy horse who stands this year for $35,000, has sent four crops to the racetrack so far. Those runners have included Sky Mesa, Essence of Dubai, and more than a dozen other stakes-caliber performers. He's currently represented by Kentucky Derby hopeful Tapit, who provided a handy bit of marketing for his sire when he won the Wood Memorial last Saturday. Pulpit was the sale's leading sire by average price: Four of his get sold for a total of $4,630,000, yielding an average of $1,157,500.

Could Pulpit be Claiborne's next Mr. Prospector? Bernie Sams, who handles stallion marketing for the fabled nursery, certainly hopes so.

"You can only hope," said Sams, who credited Claiborne owner Seth Hancock with selecting good mares during Pulpit's first years at stud. "I was pretty well set with the idea of breeding 100 mares to him this season, but since Tapit and since [Tuesday] I've had some phone calls for some nice mares to come late."

Nonetheless, Sams added, Pulpit's book will not expand much beyond the 100-mare level, in keeping with Claiborne's traditional reluctance to expand stallions' books.