09/11/2008 12:00AM

Day 3: Bidding robust for top stock


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The select sessions at Keeneland's September yearling auction ended Tuesday, but there were still a few select-sale prices on Wednesday when the open, or non-select, portion of the sale began.

After Monday and Tuesday's select sessions ended with a 12 percent drop in average and a 31 percent buyback rate, the open market began with some strong numbers that suggested sellers could still make money in the lackluster economy. Some of the upper-crust buyers active on Monday and Tuesday stayed on and were still signing big tickets on Wednesday, foreign buyers stepped up their bidding, and the interest in fillies also seemed to carry over.

The session leader at 5:30 p.m. Eastern was an $875,000 Mr. Greeley colt that Zayat Stables agent Sobhy Sonbol purchased from the Gainesway Farm agency. The chestnut colt sold as Hip No. 712 and is out of the unraced Old Trieste mare Chinoe Road, a daughter of champion juvenile filly Epitome and a half-sister to Grade 2 winner Essence of Dubai and stakes winner Danjur.

"He looks exactly like his father," Sonbol said of the colt, adding that what the horse lacked in size he made up for in athletic motion. The price, however, was a good bit higher than Sonbol's initial appraisal.

"I thought he was going to be between the $500,000 and $700,000," Sonbol said with a slight shrug. "But the good ones are fetching good money."

The second-highest price at the time, and the highest for a filly, was $725,000. That was for a Rock Hard Ten-Unsurpassed filly that got knocked down to Jerry and Ann Moss, who appeared startled by the press attention the price got them on Day 3 of the two-week auction.

"She was a great-looking filly, and we don't have that much by the sire, so we decided to take the plunge," said Jerry Moss, who signed for the filly from the Lane's End consignments.

"It was a little more than we expected," he said of the price. "This turned out to be a pretty expensive horse, so I think the market's pretty good."

Sonbol, after signing for the $875,000 Mr. Greeley colt, concurred. Despite representing one of the wealthier buyers in Egyptian beverage magnate Ahmed Zayat, Sonbol estimated he had been outgunned for a little more than half the 15 horses he had bid on. But he had managed to buy seven by the time he pocketed the receipt for the Mr. Greeley colt. By that point, he said, he knew he was going to have to pay a premium for the obviously outstanding horses.

"Everybody's on the good ones," Sonbol said, "so you know you're going to have to pay for them. But I think there's a lot of horses going to fall between the cracks."

That was the hope of bargain-hunting buyers, including some of the overseas bidders who played at the fringes of Wednesday's market but would get more serious in Week 2, when prices traditionally fall farther. Bidders from emerging racing nations in Eastern Europe knocked heads periodically with pinhookers from the U.S., England, and Ireland, to the benefit of sellers with attractive athletes to show them. Those skirmishes cheered sellers, raising hopes that the auction's second week might be stronger than anticipated.

Bloodstock agent John Gasper bid on a few for two Ukrainians, and he had indeed snagged a bargain during the select session: a $325,000 Kingmambo-Opera Aida filly that Taylor Made consigned for Lady Olivia at North Cliff, LLC. But by Wednesday, Gasper said, he was no longer getting discounts, and sometimes unable to buy at all, in an open market he found more competitive.

"The market Monday and Tuesday was not that good, so we felt like we got her at a very, very fair price," Gasper said of the Kingmambo filly. "I think it's better today, for the horses you have in the catalog. These horses today are selling well. On Tuesday, you'd expect something to bring $500,000 or $600,000, and it would sell for $300,000 or $400,000. I think people who didn't get what they wanted yesterday or Monday are hanging in there today and maybe bidding a little bit more than they'd like to pay. But they want these horses."

One notable carryover from the select days was Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum. His Shadwell Farm bought 16 yearlings for slightly more than $9 million on Monday and Tuesday, then came back Wednesday for a $600,000 Ghostzapper half-sister to juvenile champion Action This Day from Taylor Made, agent. He also bought Hip No. 654, an Empire Maker-Amber Token filly for $325,000 from Noel Murphy's Castle Park agency. There was a wide range of buyers in the upper reaches Wednesday. Among those signing for horses at $400,000 or more were Leonard Riggio's My MeadowView Stable; Robert LaPenta's Whitehorse Stables; Calnet founder Kaleem Shah; WinStar Farm-affiliated Maverick Racing; and English agencies Blandford Bloodstock and Richard O'Gorman Bloodstock.

One of the day's most sentimental successes was the $340,000 sale of Hip No. 513, the sole yearling consigned by the late David Mullins of Doninga Farm. Mullins, 51, died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 18, leaving a noticeable void in Kentucky's auction world. But Milestone Farm owner John O'Meara managed the sale of this single yearling, a colt by Tiznow out of Pola bred by O'Meara, Charlie Goldberg, and Richard Rosee. Kaleem Shah was the buyer.

Mullins's final consignment, consisting of 12 horses, will sell in November.

The Keeneland September sale, featuring a record catalog of 5,555 horses, will continue through Sept. 23, with a dark day on Friday. Sessions begin daily at 10 a.m.