03/19/2008 12:00AM

Bucking trend, Ocala March starts strong


The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s two-day March select juvenile sale kicked off impressively in Ocala, Fla., Tuesday, outperforming earlier select 2-year-old auctions with gains across the board.

Topped by a $625,000 Broken Vow colt, the OBS opener sold 110 horses for $15,734,500, an increase of 29 percent from last year - despite the fact that this year's number sold was down from 126 last year to 110. Average price climbed 48 percent, from $96,683 to $143,041, and the median increased 13 percent, from $80,000 last year to $90,000. Buy-backs remained at 36 percent, level with last year's figure.

Despite withdrawals and buy-backs that whittled the session from 230 cataloged horses to 110 that actually sold, the financial increases provided a cheery note for consignors who weathered across-the-board downturns at Fasig-Tipton's Calder sale in Miami and the Barretts sale in California.

The OBS opener also followed mixed results at the Adena Springs South 2-year-old auction in nearby Williston, Fla., which saw strong bidding for top lots, including the sale-topping $380,000 A.P. Indy colt, and a slight increase in average - but also posted a 30 percent drop in median.

The first OBS session got off to a fast start Tuesday when Ahmed Zayat's agent, Sobhy Sonbol, outdueled several rivals to get Hip No. 64 for $625,000. The bay colt is by Broken Vow, who had an exceptionally good season in 2007 as the sire of Grade 1 winners Unbridled Belle and Cotton Blossom and a raft of other graded winners and performers. Hip No. 64 is out of the Strawberry Road mare Sedona Berry, making him a half-brother to Eishin Hampton, a stakes winner in Japan, and to Level Red, Grade 2-placed in the United States.

Terry Oliver and Bo Hunt's O & H Bloodstock consigned the colt, currently named Red Vow. The horse originally sold last year for $65,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, where the buyer was listed as Third Street Partners.

The session topper, who had breezed a quarter-mile in 21.40 seconds in the under-tack show, was one of three purchases Zayat made Tuesday. The others were Hip No. 144, a $290,000 Lion Heart-Urmia colt consigned by Nick De Meric, and Hip No. 57, a $100,000 Cherokee Run-Sasin colt from the McKathan Brothers, agent.

Darley Stud owner Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson, signed for a $550,000 Pure Prize colt that sold as Hip No. 128. The chestnut colt is out of the Time for a Change mare Time for a Crown. He is a half-brother to the Snow Ridge filly Banga Ridge, winner of the Darley-sponsored Ocala Breeders' Sale Sprint at the OBS racetrack last month.

Leprechaun Racing, agent, consigned Hip No. 128 after purchasing him for $30,000 at the OBS August yearling auction last year.

Also costing $550,000 was Hip No. 199, a Mr. Greeley-Bacardi Cat filly that agent Tom Gentry purchased from the Jerry Bailey Sales agency. The filly is from the family of two-time Grade 1 winner Jade Hunter and went unsold at $245,000 in her previous turn through the auction ring at the 2007 Keeneland September sale.

As at earlier select 2-year-old auctions this season, the top end of the market appeared healthiest. Major buyers might have cut back on the amount they are willing to spend on a top pick at auction, but many are still attending the sales and signing for horses, even if the prices are in the $700,000 to $1 million range less often than they were five years ago. Even with a tighter hold on their wallets, the big buyers were in attendance - and active - at OBS March.

In addition to Zayat and Ferguson, both stalwarts of select sales, there was B. Wayne Hughes, a familiar face in more expensive bidding duels, who purchased a pair of horses at OBS March for just over $300,000. They were Hip No. 48, a $320,000 City Place-Romantic Honor colt consigned by Hoby and Layna Kight for Welcome Gate Farm, and Hip No. 49, a $310,000 Cuvee-Royal Dove colt offered by the Hartley/De Renzo agency. Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stables, represented in the ring by agent Marette Farrell, picked up a Harlan's Holiday-Runnin Wonder filly for $175,000.

But traditional high-flyers weren't the only buyers placing bids Tuesday. Danny Dion's Bear Stables, a solid buyer in the $250,000 to $400,000 range at select yearling auctions, also appeared on the buyers list, this time spending $620,000 for four horses, the most expensive being a $265,000 Forest Camp-Balcovy colt from Leprechaun Racing, agent. Kaleem Shah, who purchased the $60,000 co-topper at a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic juvenile sale last year, put up $410,000 for a Congaree-Ali's Dancer colt from W.D. North Thoroughbreds, agent.