09/11/2008 11:00PM

Brit bags $1.1M Medaglia d'Oro filly

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The select sessions at Keeneland's two-week September yearling sale ended Tuesday, but select-level buyers and prices stole the limelight on Thursday as the auction entered its fourth day.

Thursday's session spun off a $1.1 million session-topper in Hip No. 1084, a Medaglia d'Oro filly out of Amizette.

English dental surgeon Dr. Karen Sanderson was the unlikely winner of a three-way bidding war for the Medaglia d'Oro filly, fending off first Coolmore Stud and then Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's representative, John Ferguson. Seated next to Newmarket trainer Paul D'Arcy, Sanderson said the filly's pedigree, and therefore her value, looked likely to improve, courtesy of her three-quarter brother King of Rome. The Derrick Smith-owned colt is a Group 2 winner this year.

"We came to buy the best, and we feel we probably bought the best lot of the day," Sanderson said. "We actually thought we were the underbidders, so we had a pleasant surprise when the ticket came our way."

Liberation Farm and Stonewall Farm bred the Medaglia d'Oro filly and consigned her through Tom Evans's Trackside agency. She was the day's highest price as of 5 p.m.

The first non-select, or open, day on Wednesday ended with downturns but two bright spots: a stable median and smaller buyback rate. That relieved Keeneland officials and wary sellers, who endured steeper declines at the select sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday's session sold 270 yearlings for a total of $50,807,000, down 4 percent from the third-day total for 260 horses last year. The 2008 average fell 7 percent, from $203,212 to $188,174. But the median remained level with last year's at $160,000, and the percentage of horses failing to reach their reserve prices dropped from 28 percent last year to 25 percent in 2008.

By contrast, the Monday and Tuesday sessions together saw declines of 22 percent in gross receipts and 12 percent in average, though the median for those days also remained unchanged from last season at $300,000. But the select-session buy-back rate shot up from 24 percent to 31 percent.

The stronger market for Wednesday's non-select stock prompted Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell to observe that "more people can afford Fords than Ferraris."

"Ferrari" buyers like the Maktoums helped the market in general as their competitors, unable to compete with the deep Arab pockets, turned to other horses. Sheikh Mohammed bought several yearlings, led by a $500,000 A. P. Indy colt out of Piu Bella from the family of graded winners Smooth Runner and Hidden Assets; Brookdale Sales represented International Equities Holding as consignor. Maktoum's brother, Sheikh Hamdan - represented by Shadwell Farm manager Rick Nichols - was also active, snapping up an Afleet Alex colt for $600,000 early in the day. Margaux Farm, as agent, offered the chestnut colt as Hip No. 987. The colt is out of graded winner Solvig.

Other names on the buyers' list Thursday also provided formidable competition for smaller-scale bidders and yearling-to-juvenile resellers making their first serious plays at the sale. Legends Racing, a $1 million buyer four times during the select days, was back purchasing again, and so were such well-heeled owners as Zayat Stables, Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Moss, Marc Keller, and Robert LaPenta, just to name a few who bought horses for $200,000 or more Thursday.

Russian bidder picking his spots

That competition was making life difficult for Sergey Efros, the 55-year-old president of the Russian Jockey Club, who was sticking to his $100,000 limit. Still, he had not been shut out. He started buying on Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon had bought 13 horses for between $4,000 and $80,000. He planned to buy about 20 before the end of the sale, Efros said.

"Today, I am looking for horses to run in Russia," Efros said. "It's sand tracks, most of them muddy tracks because there's a lot of rain. So they have to be horses with good, heavy legs. And, actually, there are a lot of the distance races, 1 1/2 miles and even more than that. So we look for distance ability. But I like speed, too.

"I'm not buying anything over $100,000, because it's too early in Russia to bring that kind of horse."

Efros estimated the transport costs from Kentucky to Moscow, including costs for 21 days of quarantine in the U.S., to be between $15,000 and $20,000.

"But the problem is that the market there is just developing, and the prizes for the races are still too low," he said.

Efros should know. He organized Russia's first-ever Breeders' Cup-style event, raising about $1.1 million in purses from sponsors.

Even with his tight budget, Efros was a boon to sellers, because even if he didn't buy, his bidding helped raise prices. He was exactly the kind of buyer that sellers hoped would hang around for the sale's second week.

"It's more selective today than it was yesterday," said Rob Whiteley, whose Liberation Farm sold Thursday's $1.1 million filly. "It will continue to be that way, in my opinion, throughout the sale."

The auction, which has a record catalog of 5,555 horses, was to be dark on Friday. Selling was to continue Saturday through Sept. 23 with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.