09/10/2007 11:00PM

Dynaformer-Preach colt tops sale

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Hip No. 156, a Dynaformer-Preach colt, sells for $2.9 million Monday at Keeneland's yearling sale.
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Darley Stud owner Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum continued his aggressive buying pattern Monday at the opening session of Keeneland's September yearling sale, where spectators were treated to what has become an annual show at the auction: a bidding duel between Maktoum and his great rival, Coolmore chief John Magnier.

As in 2006, when he took home the $11.7 million colt Meydan City, Maktoum won the battle this year, albeit for the less flashy price of $2.9 million in a marketplace that saw double-digit declines in gross and average. This year's prize: a Dynaformer colt out of Mr. Prospector's Grade 1-winning daughter Preach.

The $2.9 million colt was the session's highest-priced lot. Consigned by Claiborne Farm, he is a half-brother to Claiborne's popular sire Pulpit. Maktoum's other purchases included a $2.4 million A.P. Indy-Denebola colt from Lane's End, agent, and a $950,000 Distorted Humor-Bold Burst colt consigned by Run for the Roses Stable (Three Chimneys, agent). Maktoum, represented by his regular representative John Ferguson, also snapped up a $1.2 million A.P. Indy-Arabis colt from Seneca Livestock and Aaron and Marie Jones (Taylor Made, agent); a $1 million Vindication-Seinita filly from the Gainesway agency; and a $1 million Distorted Humor-Alchemist colt from Middlebrook, agent, among others.

Despite those prices, figures for the two-week auction's first session dropped sharply, reflecting the "correction" other select sales have seen. Monday's opener grossed $67,395,000, down 23 percent from last season. The session sold 171 horses, compared to last year's 163. Average fell harder, by 27 percent, to $394,123. Median was down by 3 percent to $300,000. But buy-backs also declined substantially, falling by 14 percent to a moderate 24 percent - a hint that consignors anticipated downturns. A major reason for the decline was the fact that Magnier and Maktoum only fought over one horse this year, a marked change from last year, when they clashed repeatedly.

For the bidding on Hip No. 156, Maktoum, his wife Princess Haya of Jordan, and Ferguson stood in their customary spot behind the auction ring, perhaps 30 feet from Magnier. The Maktoum-Magnier bout took less time than in previous years, and the price wasn't as electrifying. But the $2.9 million that Maktoum paid for what Ferguson called "an exceptional individual from a great family" was better than Claiborne Farm's Dell Hancock had expected.

"It was a whole lot better than I thought he'd do," she acknowledged. "Dynaformers don't usually sell that well.

"But Barbaro proved he could get a really good horse," she added.

The Dynaformer colt is the second consecutive foal out of Preach that Maktoum has bought at the Keeneland September auction. Last year, he paid $3 million for the Gradeo1-winning mare's still unnamed Storm Cat colt.

"At the end of the day, it's a great family, and we're pleased with the Storm Cat colt," Ferguson said.

Maktoum has been on a shopping spree all season, privately buying such horses as 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and runner-up Hard Spun, Haskell victor Any Given Saturday, and shares in fashionable sire Distorted Humor.

Other high prices were Hip No. 66, a $2 million A.P. Indy-Fire the Groom colt that Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne purchased from Crystal Springs Farm (Denali Stud, agent); Hip No. 40, a $1.6 million Seeking the Gold-Crystal Crossing filly that O'Byrne bought from Eaton Sales, agent; Hip No. 141, a $1.5 million Giant's Causeway-Onaga filly that Betty Moran purchased from Lane's End, agent; Hip No. 234, a $1.5 million A.P. Indy-Wife for Life filly that My MeadowView Farms purchased from Spendthrift (Three Chimneys, agent); Hip No. 122, a $1.4 million Awesome Again-Maggy Hawk filly that Clarence Scharbauer Jr. bought from Stonestreet Thoroughbreds (Gainesway, agent); and Hip No. 186, a $1 million Storm Cat-She's a Winner filly that WinStar Farm got from Taylor Made, agent.

Not all the big prices resulted in sales. Among the notable buybacks were Hip No. 182, a Storm Cat-Serena's Song colt that the Robert and Beverly Lewis Trust bought back for $1.4 million; and Hip No. 126, a Vindication-Ma Petite Mousse colt that Padua Stables consigned but bought back at $1.35 million.

The reality of Polytrack played a role in Maktoum's selection of the $2.4 million A.P. Indy colt, according to Ferguson. The artificial surface, and others like Tapeta and Cushion Track, have added luster to turf pedigrees as owners have come to the conclusion that grass-bred runners will perform better than dirt-bred horses on artificial going.

"In the past, you might be looking for an all-dirt pedigree," Ferguson said. "With Polytrack, A.P. Indy with a little bit of turf in the pedigree won't hurt."

The "little bit of turf" comes to Hip No. 44 though his dam, Denebola. The Storm Cat mare was a champion in France at 2 and is out of another French champion 2-year-old filly, Coup de Genie.

One of the afternoon's top-priced fillies, the $1.4 million Awesome Again-Maggy Hawk filly, marked the return of buyer Scharbauer. Scharbauer, 82, raced 1988 Horse of the Year and 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba with his late wife Dorothy and their daughter Pamela. But Scharbauer said he had lost interest in much of life, including racing, after Dorothy's death in 2005.

"I had a bad bout with depression," he said. "I'm just getting back on my feet again."

Scharbauer returned to Keeneland after an 11-year absence, and he found prices a good bit higher than when he and his wife bought Magic Cat in 1996 for the session-topping price of $800,000. Scharbauer said he had expected to pay between $600,000 and $800,000 for his new Awesome Again filly, a half-sister to Afleet Alex and Scharbauer's pick among fillies at the auction this year.

"That's a stud price, not a filly price," he said as the auction receipt sat in his lap and photographers gathered around him. "I never dreamed I'd give that for a mare. But I like her. I think she's a racehorse."

The Keeneland September yearling sale is to continue through Sept. 25 at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington. Sessions begin daily at 10 a.m. except on Friday, Sept. 14, when the auction is dark.