09/12/2007 11:00PM

El Prado colt goes for $750,000

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - Buyers who sat out the early select sessions at Keeneland's September yearling sale still found themselves paying big prices on Thursday at the auction's fourth session. One reason: There were still some big fish around bidding on horses.

Coolmore Stud's John Magnier and Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's representative John Ferguson were still on the grounds Thursday, though neither name was on the session-leading ticket. English agent Charlie Gordon-Watson outbid Ferguson for Hip No. 1001, a $750,000 El Prado colt from Golden Eagle Farm's reduction. That was the Thursday session's highest price at 5:30 p.m.

Mill Ridge Farm consigned the bay colt on Golden Eagle's behalf.

"There was a lot of interest, not just them," Welker said, referring to Maktoum and Magnier. "Everybody was on him."

It wasn't clear who exactly bought the colt, as Gordon-Watson declined to name his client. But he did reveal that the colt will ship to Europe.

Gordon-Watson acknowledged he was surprised by the high price tag, but added, "I liked the stallion, liked the pedigree, and he's a horse who can go to Europe and maybe come back here later. He was a bit of a standout today among a pretty disappointing bunch of horses."

Hip No. 1001's credentials were impressive. He is out of Grade 1 winner Favorite Funtime, by Seeking the Gold, and his family is peppered with such good runners as Grade 1 winner Beau's Eagle and Grade 2 winner Man from Eldorado.

Centennial Farms president Don Little Jr. didn't bid on Monday or Tuesday but found himself paying the decidedly select-sale price of $700,000 for a Dynaformer half-brother to Grade 1 winner Honor in War.

The bay colt went through the ring as Hip No. 939 - also from the Mill Ridge consignment - and Little said the price was above Centennial's average expenditure of $300,000 to $400,000.

"When you find that horse that you really like, sometimes you've got to stretch, and we did," he said.

Hip No. 939 was one of two horses to bring an even $700,000 by that time. The other was Hip No. 1195, a Hennessy-Sacred Promise colt that Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne bought from Eaton Sales, agent.

Thursday's fourth session followed a buoyant day on Wednesday, when the auction was able to reverse slides in gross and average that took place in its two opening sessions. The Wednesday session sold 260 yearlings for $52,835,000, an increase of 9opercent from last year's equivalent day. The $203,212 average was up 12opercent, and the $160,000 median represented a 7 percent gain. The buy-back rate was up, but only slightly, climbing from 26 percent to 28 percent.

But cumulative figures for the first three days still showed the mixed effects of the softer select market on Monday and Tuesday. Despite a record catalog of 5,553 yearlings, the number sold - 597 - was up only 1opercent, indicating there had been scratches, a common strategy for consignors fearing their horses won't sell well. The gross of $198,212,000 was down 14 percent, and the $332,013 average was down 15 percent. But the $230,000 median was the same as last year's, a sign that consignors who did send their horses through the ring were doing about as well as last year. That was backed up by the buy-back rate, which also held level at 26 percent.

Why had the open sessions opened more strongly than the select sessions? Keeneland sale director Geoffrey Russell wondered if the select sessions' reputation for expensive battles between Coolmore and Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum might have had an effect.

"There might be a psychological block for some buyers on Book 1 who think they can't compete with the two superpowers," he said.

Don Little, having just signed his $700,000 receipt, was a good example.

"We didn't even look at the first two days," he said. "This sale is so big now, and we typically haven't bought any individuals on those days. Most of our better horses have been in the second and third books [covering the first four open sessions]. If there's anything in Book 1 that passes our conformation requirements and has any pedigree at all, it would be a $1 million horse."

The Thursday session had yet to see a $1 million yearling, but many of the names usually associated with select-session purchasers were on the buyers' list on Thursday, including Ferguson, B. Wayne Hughes, Beverly Lewis, Jay Em Ess Stable, and John Oxley, to name a few. They were joined by a slew of middle-market stalwarts, including trainers Dale Romans and Jerry Hollendorfer and such yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers such as Leprechaun Racing, Hartley/DeRenzo, and Eisaman Equine.

The mix was a cheering sight for Thursday sellers, even those who had found the market spotty.

"For the right horse, it's as good as it's ever been," said consignor James Keogh of the Keogh/Grovendale agency. Keogh, by that point, had seen both the bad and the good in the market. From 13 horses through the ring, he'd bought six back. But the others, he said, had generally sold well, most notably a Stravinsky filly that brought $250,000 from agent Anthony Stroud.

"No complaints," Keogh said.

The Keeneland September auction runs through Sept. 25 with sessions beginning daily in the Keeneland sale pavilion at 10 a.m. Friday was to be a dark day.