09/16/2004 12:00AM

Bullish yearling sale rolls on

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Will Farish saw his Lane's End consignment,with numerous seven-figure lots, lead in gross earnings.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Twenty-four hours after an $8 million Storm Cat colt sent the market into the stratosphere, the bullish Keeneland September yearling sale rolled on. At 5:33 p.m., the market was still flexing its muscles with flashy prices, most notably the $750,000 that B. Wayne Hughes bid for a Giant's Causeway colt. But people at the auction were still talking about Tuesday's explosive session and the chestnut colt from Lane's End who harked them back to the massive price inflation of the mid-1980's.

That colt, a son of A. P. Indy's half-sister Welcome Surprise, easily broke the previous sale record of $6.8 million and became the fourth-highest-priced yearling ever sold in North America.

Leading Japanese trainer Hideyuki Mori outbid Coolmore principal John Magnier to secure the colt, but Mori left a cloud of mystery over the transaction after declining to name his client. That gave the sale crowd plenty to speculate about on Wednesday, and the mystery only grew when conflicting signals emerged from the camp of Japanese owner Fusao Sekiguchi. Sekiguchi, who is attending the sale, confirmed in the morning that he had bought the colt, but his daughter-in-law later reported that he was not the buyer.

Mori bought two more seven-figure yearlings at the Tuesday session: a $3.4 million Storm Cat colt out of Fusaichi Pegasus's full sister Bless, consigned by Taylor Made for ClassicStar, and a $1.8 million Seeking the Gold-Angel Fever colt, a three-quarter brother to Fusaichi Pegasus offered by Stone Farm and Stonerside Stable. Both of those had obvious appeal for Sekiguchi, who campaigned Fusaichi Pegasus, but so far his identity as Mori's client in those two transactions has not been confirmed. Sekiguchi himself created some confusion on Wednesday, when he appeared in the sale pavilion not with Mori but with another agent, John McCormack.

The $8 million Storm Cat colt swelled the Tuesday session's final numbers. The session sold 179 yearlings for $87,463,000, soaring 24 percent above last year's second day, which sold 173 horses for $70,695,000. The day 2 average price jumped 20 percent, increasing from $408,642 to $488,620. The median price rose 8 percent, from $240,000 last year to $260,000 this season.

Cumulatively, the Keeneland September auction's two select sessions sold 349 yearlings for $150,648,000, an increase of 15 percent from last year's aggregate $131,250,000 for 339 lots. The cumulative average price was $431,656, a gain of 12 percent from last year's $387,168. The $260,000 cumulative median was 13 percent higher than last year's $230,000. Most importantly from many sellers' point of view was the two-day buy-back rate, which dropped from last year's 29 percent to 23 percent.

The record Storm Cat colt made for great conversation. But, for buying agents, the $8 million colt was more than a subject of gossip. He was also the foremost example of how hard it has become to buy a good yearling, the kind of potential Big Horse who combines a stallion's pedigree with good conformation.

"He was the complete package," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. "We thought he was one of a couple of horses who could easily break loose, but never in my wildest dreams did I think we would sell an $8 million horse. But that's why people come to market. It's the competitive nature of the market that makes those kinds of prices possible. An auction is a competitive sport, and there's no way you can gauge what's going to happen at that level of competition among the major players."

On Wednesday, there were fewer $1 million-type yearlings on offer, but even middle-market spenders were confronting stiff competition for lots they wanted. One trainer, consistently outbid at Monday and Tuesday's select sessions, groused that his client had had to triple his budget for the sale as well as trim his shopping plans from four or five horses to one or two, and this was a common refrain.

The main reason for this was evident just minutes after Wednesday's third session opened, when Woods Edge Farm, agent, sent its Elusive Quality-Dazzling Bright colt into the ring and got a $650,000 final bid from John Ferguson. The fact that Ferguson was still at the sale as it entered its open sessions was clear warning that the market for horses would continue to be strong.

Ferguson's purchase was followed hours later by Hughes's $750,000 bid for the session-leading Giant's Causeway colt, a son of the stakes-placed Deputy Minister mare President's Girl sold by the Taylor Made agency. Sekiguchi returned to the pavilion soon afterward and bought a $700,000 Grand Slam colt out of stakes winner Ring Star from Woods Edge.

Watching such high-powered buyers slug it out, another notable bidder, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, was reminded vividly of the mid-1980's at Keeneland, when he was underbidder for the most expensive Thoroughbred yearling ever sold, $13.1 million Seattle Dancer in 1985.

"There's a certain amount of excitement and confidence in the air," he said. "I think people are getting back into the mindset they had in the mid-1980's. I think it's very, very healthy."

Reminded that a lot of people, in retrospect, thought it was crazy that anyone would pay $13.1 million for a yearling, as Robert Sangster did, Lukas smiled.

"When you're in the horse business, you've got to be a little bit crazy," he said. "The money is here now, and these people in Kentucky sure know how to sell horses."

The undisputed master when it comes to getting a high hammer price at Keeneland is Will Farish's Lane's End Farm. About three-quarters of the way through the third session, Lane's End cumulatively had sold 62 yearlings in for a total of $32,277,000 and an average price of $520,596, making it the auction's leading consignor by gross. That included the $8 million colt, as well as a $3.1 million A.P. Indy-Sahara Gold colt Lane's End sold on behalf of Stonerside; a $1.7 million Storm Cat-Warm Mood filly; and a $1.4 million Danzig-Shouldnt Say Never colt, all to Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson.

Barry Irwin, the Team Valor principal who bought a $1.85 million Giant's Causeway colt at Saratoga, was keeping his bidding hand out of the air at Keeneland.

"It's incredible," he said. "Isn't it mind-boggling? I'm glad I already bought my yearling."

Leading consignors by gross

Top consignors for Keeneland's two select yearling sessions, Monday and Tuesday:

ConsignorNumber SoldAverageGross
Lane's End 61522,409$31,867,000
Taylor Made Sales Agency 75402,86630,215,000
Eaton Sales 48394,52018,937,000
Three Chimneys Sales 28256,9647,195,000
Dromoland Farm Inc. 12568,0836,817,000
Paramount Sales 12566,2506,795,000
Denali Stud 22202,2724,450,000
Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency 19230,3684,377,000
Michael C. Byrne 6659,1663,955,000
Lakland LLC 21,875,0003,750,000

Source: Keeneland Association