07/20/2009 11:00PM

Birdstone colt sells for $400,000 at F-T sale


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Birdstone's classic season paid off in the auction ring Monday as his sole yearling at Fasig-Tipton's July select sale brought $400,000, becoming the day's top-priced horse at a session that saw a 24 percent decline in average and a 33 percent drop in median.

"He was a very nice colt, and Birdstone has blasted onto the sire scene with two classic winners," said John Ferguson, who bought the session topper, Hip No. 228, for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley Stud.

Birdstone, who stood this year for $10,000, sired 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont winner Summer Bird. Both runners are from Birdstone's first crop and launched the Grindstone stallion onto buyers' must-consider list. Dapple Stud, agent, consigned Hip No. 228, a dark bay or brown son of the Seattle Slew mare Slew Smarts. He is a half-brother to stakes-placed Por Que.

Asked whether a year ago he'd have expected to find a Birdstone colt at the top of his short list at a sale, Ferguson smiled and said, "I don't think anyone would have done. He sired those two horses, and you have to take that seriously."

The price was about what he expected to pay, Ferguson said, but other purchasers acknowledged enjoying a buyer's market.

Monday's session sold 125 yearlings for $8,933,500, down 33 percent from last year's gross for 142 horses. The $71,468 average price was down 24 percent, and the median fell to $50,000. Buybacks improved slightly, falling from last year's opening-day figure of 44 percent to 42 percent.

Conventional wisdom that horses perceived to be higher quality would still bring healthy bidding was borne out. The session produced 31 horses that brought $100,000 or more, but even top-level purchasers said they were finding some bargains as compared to a year or two ago.

"It's definitely a buyer's market," said agent Dennis Yokum, who paid the day's second-highest price of $350,000 for Hip No. 147, a Rock Hard Ten-Incredible Story filly consigned by Bluewater Sales. Yokum bought the dark bay or brown filly for Mercedes Stable owner Ernest Moody, who campaigned Rock Hard Ten with Madeleine Pickens and now is the stallion's majority owner, Yokum said.

"I thought we would be around $300,000," Yokum said. "I thought they could get a little strong here, because I thought she was the best we were going to see. The best are going to bring some money, even in this market."

Darley also bought a $350,000 horse, a Bernardini colt that, like Hip No. 147, went to his sire's owner. The colt, Hip No. 169, is out of the Group 2-winning Seattle Slew mare Lyphard's Delta. He is a three-quarter-brother to Grade 1 winner Indy Five Hundred and to multiple Grade 3 winner Delta Princess, both by A.P. Indy. Lane's End, agent, consigned the stout bay colt.

"I think he'd have made more in earlier years," said Dick O'Gorman, who signed the ticket for Darley. "But these are the times we're living in."

Generally lower prices made for buying opportunities, as agent Buzz Chace found. Chace paid $120,000 for Hip No. 28, a filly by first-crop sire Congrats and out of the Tabasco Cat mare Tab a Cat. The bay filly is a half-sister to stakes-placed Mr. Soul, and Chace judged that in previous years she might well have sold for $200,000 to $250,000. Atlanta developer Bill Poston and Terry Finley's West Point Thoroughbreds were among the buyers for Hip No. 28, and Chace said the sense that horses are less expensive now helped Poston bring in several first-time Thoroughbred buyers.

"Bill Poston has a few people from Georgia who came up and wanted to buy some horses," Chace said. "It's a little easier now to get more investors. They think maybe it's a good time to buy some horses. Everybody's talking about the sale's going to be down, and I think that's an upbeat thing for people that have the money and want to spend the money to take a chance and buy some nice horses. There's an opportunity if people can afford it and don't mind a little bit of a risk."

Chace said the partners are not interested in pinhooking but will race the filly, who was consigned by Baccari Bloodstock, agent.

Another relatively new buyer, Sheikh Rashed bin Mohammed al-Khalifa of Bahrain, said the market slowdown meant he will likely purchase more horses than originally planned. Al-Khalifa, an owner in Bahrain who bought his first American horses at the 2008 sales, said he would likely buy about eight horses total from the Fasig-Tipton July and Saratoga sales and Keeneland September. All will be raced in the name of his son, Salman Rashed, in France, Illinois, New York, and possibly England. The stable had its first U.S. runner and first winner on July 8 when first-time starter Chantilly Nayla won by almost four lengths at Arlington. The juvenile filly, incidentally, was the first of three first-time starters to win that week for her sire, Five Star Day.

"It's been good last year since the September sale," al-Khalifa said. "This year, it's a buyer's market. The prices are good for the buyers and for the sellers, because they are selling. Even last year, the market was down, but the good horses brought high prices."

Yearling-to-juvenile resellers, a key buying segment at yearling sales, suffered through near 30 percent declines in the juvenile market earlier this year. But they returned as buyers, albeit with somewhat less buying force. Among those who signed for horses were B.C.3. Thoroughbreds, Scanlon Training Center, Off the Hook, and Murray Smith, who signed tickets in the name of Divine Assetts. Their purchase prices ranged from $10,000 to $150,000.

The auction was to continue Tuesday at Fasig-Tipton's Newtown Paddocks, with the final session starting at 10 a.m.