07/17/2006 11:00PM

Fasig-Tipton final numbers strong

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's July yearling sale didn't get another million-dollar lot on Tuesday, but that was fine with Scott Guenther.

Guenther, who has about 35 horses he races in the name of Desperado Stables, paid $760,000 on Tuesday for Hip No. 353, a Pulpit-Mayhavebeen-theone colt who was the day's top-priced lot. Guenther bid from the walking ring behind the sale pavilion, biding his time until the hammer was about to fall at $750,000. Just as auctioneer Walt Robertson's gavel was descending to close the sale, Guenther swooped in and bought the colt on a single bid. Nursery Place was the seller on behalf of John Mayer and Bob Manfuso.

"I thought he'd be between $500,000 and $1 million," said Guenther. "I'm pleased with him at this price."

The two-day auction ended with 307 yearlings sold for $35,598,000, down 4 percent from last year, when a larger catalog grossed $37,106,000 for 368 horses. Average rose 15 percent from $100,832 last year to $115,954, and median also increased 20 percent from $75,000 to $90,000. Most impressively, the buyback rate plummeted from last year's 39 percent to 25 percent.

"The numbers couldn't be much stronger," Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson said. "We had good horses, and people wanted them, thank goodness."

The sale's highest-priced lot was a $1.2 million Forestry colt out of Alizea's Song, an unraced full sister to Grade 1 winner and hot young sire Songandaprayer. Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley purchased the colt from the Taylor Made Sales agency. Aaron and Marie Jones bred the sale-topping colt.

Guenther had been interested in that Forestry colt, too, but he saw even more to like about Hip No. 353.

"I thought he was the best colt in the sale," said Guenther, who retired from the carpet business about five years ago to run his racing stable full time. "It was between him and the Forestry colt, but this one is more my type of horse. The Forestry colt might have been a bit more refined, but this one had more bone."

Guenther said he hasn't decided yet where the colt will race, but he has plenty of choices. Guenther has strings in New York, California, and Kentucky.

The $760,000 Pulpit colt was the latest success for John Mayer's Nursery Farm near Athens, Ky., south of Lexington. Nursery Place and partners bred Steppenwolfer, a Grade 2 winner and third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby this year.

And they've had plenty of success with the family of Tuesday's session-topper, too. Mayer bought his second dam, Emmaus, for just $50,000 at the 1995 Keeneland September yearling sale. She never raced, but she has paid Mayer back handsomely on his investment. Nursery Place sold her second foal as a weanling for $775,000. That turned out to be Wiseman's Ferry, a graded winner now enjoying success as a young sire.

Emmaus's third foal - the dam of Tuesday's session-topper - had what appeared to be an unlucky start. Mayhavebeentheone, by Arch, was bred for the auction ring. But she broke her ankle in a paddock accident when she was a month old. She, too, never raced but went into the Nursery Place broodmare band for owner Mayer and partner Bob Manfuso; they named her Mayhavebeentheone, Mayer said, as a wistful tribute to what might have been had the filly sold or run for them. The Fasig-Tipton session-topper is her first foal.

"She was so pretty, we kept her," Mayer said. "All of a sudden, this filly's misfortune looks like a blessing."

The whole family seems to have been blessed in recent years. Since Mayer purchased Emmaus, her own dam, La Affirmed, has become a prolific producer with such stakes winners as Caress, Country Cat, and Bernstein, who also was a leading sire of juveniles.

Emmaus's accomplished half-sister Caress also went on to produce the Pulpit colt Sky Mesa, whose career as a Grade 1 winner added another dollop of black type to the session-topper's pedigree. In fact, Sky Mesa's success helped Mayer and Manfuso decide on Pulpit when it came time to breed Mayhavebeentheone in 2004. The result: a colt bred close along the same lines as a good racehorse with a potentially promising stud career in front of him.

"In hindsight, Mayhavebeen-theone breaking that ankle, I guess you have to look at it as a kind of blessing," Mayer said. "We wouldn't have kept her if she hadn't."