07/20/2005 12:00AM

Fasig-Tipton figures down from record '04

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's July yearling sale, which ended Tuesday night, could not match the record returns it yielded for the company in 2004.

Led by a $650,000 Giant's Causeway colt, the two-day auction saw strong selling at the top of the market, but middle-class horses got less interest from buyers. Coming off last year's record numbers, the auction posted declines across the board despite its record catalog size, and buy-backs increased from 25 percent to 39 percent.

Major players were on hand for the sale. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's representative John Ferguson and Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne both attended, but between them they accounted for just three purchases. O'Byrne signed for the sale-topping Giant's Causeway colt, a son of Grade 2-placed City College (Carson City) consigned by David Hager's Idle Hour Farm on behalf of Marion Montanari. Ferguson purchased a $250,000 E Dubai-Septet colt from the Dromoland agency and a $150,000 Street Cry-Rough Ride colt from the Walnut Green agency. Sheikh Mohammed's Darley organization stands both sires.

Such selective buying habits among upper-market patrons combined with conservatism among pinhookers - traditional middle-market stalwarts - made the sale spotty for anything but standout horses. The situation was further exacerbated by the auction's largest-ever pool of horses: The catalog extended to Hip No. 679, though by its printing that number had been winnowed slightly to 672 because of withdrawals.

In the end, 601 of those horses made it to the auction ring, with 368 selling for a total of $37,106,000, down from $38,620,000 for 338 head last year. The average price in 2005 fell 12 percent, from $114,260 to $100,832, and the median slid 6 percent, from $80,000 to $75,000 this year. All of last season's figures were records.

Mare purchase a winner

David Hager, who consigned the sale-topping Giant's Causeway colt, said the colt was born to star at a sale.

"When he was born, he came out and looked at everybody like, 'Hey, what's happening?'" Hager said. "He was a dream horse to start with."

The dream actually started for Hager and the colt's breeder, Florida-based Marion Montanari, back in 2002. That was when Hager spotted the broodmare City College at the Keeneland November mixed sale.

Montanari, who owns about 20 broodmares, was a new client for Hager's Idle Hour Farm in 2002, and she wanted to upgrade her mare band. Hager thought City College would be an asset.

"I told her, this is the mare you have to buy," Hager recalled. "I took her to the barn to see the mare, and she fell in love with her."

Montanari paid $165,000 for City College, who was in foal to Cat Thief at the time. Hager credited Montanari's success with her game willingness to invest and upgrade her stock.

Montanari also purchased Candy Cane, an Argentine-bred full sister to Candy Ride, for $140,000 at Keeneland's 2003 November sale, carrying an E Dubai colt. That foal also sold at Fasig-Tipton July, bringing $90,000 from pinhooker Murray Smith. It didn't make him an instant profit for Montanari, but it went a long way toward paying off her original investment.

McPeek takes to new role

Among the agents plying their trade at the Fasig-Tipton July sale was Ken McPeek, who announced earlier this summer that he would leave his 20-year career as a trainer to become a bloodstock agent. He certainly looked the part, laden with his catalog, reference materials, cell phone, and a list of what appeared to be about 25 clients. Some, McPeek said, were people he had trained for and bought horses for in the past, but a fair number are new to the game, though he wouldn't disclose their identities.

"I don't have any one client who's going to be buying a lot of horses," he said. "But I've got a lot of what I'd call hardworking people who want to spend their money wisely and get a good horse."

McPeek said he hoped to bring home 15 to 20 yearlings for those buyers, and he noted that finding a good horse is harder, in his estimation, than training a good one.

"I've got a lot of orders for this sale," he said. "It's nice that people trust my judgment. Twenty years of training has given me a lot of experience to help in this endeavor. Having bought at the lower end of the market starting out when I was young, I had a chance to develop horses and see what went right and what went wrong with them and what translates into making a good racehorse. But horse racing is always a learning experience, and you're always evolving."

* The Gone West syndicate, which stands the fashionable sire at Mill Ridge in Lexington, has contributed $100,000 to the Kentucky Equine Education Project, making it the newest member of the education and lobbying group.