03/07/2007 1:00AM

Calder sale down in average, gross

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MIAMI - Fasig-Tipton's Calder select 2-year-old sale Tuesday posted declines in gross and average from last year, although auction officials pronounced themselves mostly satisfied.

The 2007 auction sold 124 horses for $43,622,000, down 30 percent from last year's gross of $62,187,000 for 154 horses, and the average price fell 13 percent from $403,812 to $351,790. The median price was $250,000, up 25 percent from $200,000 last year. But the buyback rate at the 2007 auction was 41 percent, well up from last season's 33 percent. Like last year, the sale had seven that sold for $1 million or more.

This sale-topper was a $2.5 million Storm Cat-Moon Safari colt bought by agent Demi O'Byrne for Coolmore, which had bred the colt.

The one-day sale was not able to continue its three-year streak of world-record prices. Last year, the Forestry colt The Green Monkey sold for $16 million, a world-record price for any Thoroughbred at auction. In 2005, a Tale of the Cat colt sold for $5.2 million, at the time a record for a juvenile at auction.

"It was good at the top," said Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson. "Seven horses brought $1 million or better. We always like to sell a higher percentage of horses, but basically this has probably been the norm for the last eight to 10 years.

"I feel very good about the sale."

The partnership of Hoby and Layna Kight, Don and Pam Mattox, Norman Adams, and Drew Raymon sold the sale-topper through the Kights' agency. The group had purchased the colt for $1 million at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale. Coolmore bred the Storm Cat colt but opted to sell him as a yearling through the Lane's End agency, only to buy him back seven months later at Calder.

Did Coolmore ties hurt topper's price?

The sale-topping Storm Cat colt had attracted a lot of attention before the sale because of his $1 million yearling price, which made him an unusually brave pinhook. But another big topic of conversation Tuesday was who hadn't bid on him: Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's representative, John Ferguson, a frequent auction rival of Coolmore agent O'Byrne.

The Storm Cat colt's sellers and others interpreted Ferguson's absence from the bidding as an extension of a Maktoum-Coolmore feud that became public in 2005, when Maktoum stopped purchasing horses sired by Coolmore stallions.

Coolmore does not own Storm Cat, though the Irish-based stallion enterprise does own an undisclosed number of lifetime breeding rights in the highly fashionable 24-year-old sire. But what might have been more at issue, Kight and selling partner Don Mattox suggested, was Coolmore's status as breeder of the Calder sale-topper.

Kight said Tuesday that he had estimated the colt could bring "$3omillion or a little more" if both O'Byrne and Ferguson bid on him. But he also knew, he said, that the colt's breeder line could compromise that scenario. Asked what he believed kept Ferguson from bidding, Kight said, "The breeder."

Ferguson himself said only that "The horse was not on our list" when asked whether his lack of interest was due to the colt's connection to Coolmore. But Kight said he and his partners were conscious when they purchased the colt as a yearling that Coolmore's involvement as breeder could cost them Darley's bid when the horse came up at the 2-year-old sale.

"But it was our only chance to buy a horse like that," Kight said.

Kight said the partnership had tried to make it clear that Coolmore no longer owned any portion of the Storm Cat colt by disclosing all their partners on his catalog page.

Auction houses have sometimes benefited from Maktoum vs. Coolmore. At the 2006 Calder sale, for example, it was bitter duel between O'Byrne and Ferguson that drove The Green Monkey to a record and lifted the entire sale's bottom line. But Ferguson's abstention from bidding on the Coolmore-bred Storm Cat colt this year may signal a trend that could cost auctioneers money, too.

"We have no indication that Coolmore and Darley bid against each other on any horse today," Fasig-Tipton chief operating officer Boyd Browning said Tuesday night. "Clearly, they are the most powerful buyers in the industry. When you have a set of circumstances like today, obviously it has a statistical impact on a sale."

Ogden buys trio of expensive fillies

Robert Ogden helped boost the Calder sale by purchasing three expensive horses: an $800,000 Pulpit-My Prayer filly from Niall Brennan, agent; a $700,000 Tale of the Cat-Indy Power filly from Maurice Miller's agency; and a $530,000 Proud Citizen-Betty's Solutions filly, also from Brennan's consignment.

Ogden's focus on fillies is understandable. Last year, he bought the Dixie Union filly Sander Camillo from Brennan for $500,000, and she went on to win Group 2 and Group 3 stakes in England for trainer Jeremy Noseda.

Ogden, founder of the construction and mining conglomerate The Ogden Group, is a prominent National Hunt owner in Britain. But he said that his success with a few recent flat runners has encouraged him to expand his interests in the non-jumping sport.

"There's a higher amount of injury in jump racing," he said. "You've got to have strong heart. It's a bit of relief for me to have flat horses running in the summer. So, yes, there's an inclination for me to get more involved in it."