09/10/2008 12:00AM

A buyback record that lasted 23 years

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - It's an odd record: What's the highest price for a horse that didn't sell?

After Monday's opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale in Lexington, the record, apparently, is $7.7 million. That was the final bid for the first foal out of 2002 Horse of the Year and three-time champion mare Azeri as the yearling colt stood in the bidding ring, gently snorting.

However, the bid wasn't live. Instead, it was either the bid of the auctioneers or the yearling's representatives in an attempt to get the price above the reserve for any live bidders still remaining. When the hammer fell, the colt - by A.P. Indy and already named Vallenzeri - was led back to his consignor, Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, where he remains the property of the Allen Paulson Living Trust.

The previous record for a horse "not sold," according to materials provided by Keeneland, was $7.5 million, set in 1985 at the Keeneland July yearling sale, the boutique venue that was discontinued after the 2003 two-night session. In that instance, Ralph C. Wilson, the owner of the Buffalo Bills and Oxford Stables, bought back a Northern Dancer colt he bred after the last live bid of $7.4 million.

According to reports about the 1985 July sale, Wilson said after the colt failed to surpass his reserve that he intended to race the yearling for his own benefit. A year earlier, Wilson had sold a Northern Dancer colt for $7.1 million at the July sale; apparently, he was having seller's remorse, and said he "really wanted to race a Northern Dancer himself, and this was a nice colt," according to the July 27, 1985 issue of the Blood-Horse magazine. Northern Dancer was the most expensive sire in the world at that time.

J. Michael Paulson, who runs the trust that was set up after the death of his father in 2000, said after the colt failed to reach his reserve that the trust still intended to sell Vallenzeri privately, with the hopes that the family could retain a small share. He said that the $7.7 million last bid "came up a little shy" of the reserve, and he pointed out that the colt is a one of a kind, by a Horse of the Year, A.P. Indy, and out of a Horse of the Year. Azeri was the first filly to be voted Horse of the Year since Lady's Secret in 1986.

Interestingly, the last live bid on the Northern Dancer colt in 1985 was provided by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who has dominated the September yearling sale for almost all of the last decade but was a relative newcomer to the North American racing scene in 1985. Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud has been the leading buyer at Keeneland September from 1999-2006, and this year, nearing the end of the sale's first day, Darley's representative, John Ferguson, had signed the tickets for nine horses for total spending of $8.825 million.

* Allen Kershaw, vice president of Darley Stud's Gainsborough division in Versailles, Ky., has left his position to pursue other opportunities, Darley Stud announced Monday. Kershaw was first hired by Darley Stud in 1984 to develop and manage Gainsborough.

- additional reporting by Glenye Cain Oakford