07/15/2008 11:00PM

Fasig-Tipton sees $375K topper as prices fall

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A $375,000 Exchange Rate filly topped the two-day Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale Tuesday, which opened the yearling auction season on a subdued note with declines across the board.

Ahmed Zayat bought the sale topper, a Florida-bred gray or roan filly currently named Wicked Exchange, from Warrendale Sales, agent. Sold as Hip No. 441, she is the second foal out of the Tactical Cat mare Wickedly Wise.

The auction sold 305 yearlings for $28,151,000, down 23 percent from last year, when 354 horses sold. The average price of $92,298 was down 10 percent, and the $75,000 median was down 6 percent. Buy-backs were 39 percent, up from 32 percent in 2007.

Wicked Exchange was one of six horses to sell for $300,000 or more at the two-day sale in Lexington, down from 12 last year.

"I thought she'd go as high as a filly could go at this sale," said Sobhy Sonbol, who bought Wicked Exchange on Zayat's behalf. "The good ones are bringing the good money here. I liked the way she was shaped, and she looked like she was very quick on her feet. She's the kind of horse that we look for.

"It wasn't a discount, but you know what, she was a beautiful filly, and if she goes on and wins a Grade 1, those are the kind that give you the babies," he said.

Zayat also purchased a $145,000 El Corredor-A Real Lady filly from the Taylor Made agency.

Tuesday's session took off quickly when the second horse in the ring, a colt from Eurosilver's first crop, brought $320,000 from Starlight Racing agent Barry Berkelhammer. Starlight is a small public partnership led by Jack and Laurie Wolf and Donald and Barbara Lucarelli.

Mr. and Mrs. Jody Huckabay's Elm Tree Farm sold the bay colt, a son of Informative Style, on behalf of his breeder, Mike Rainier of Dallas. The colt is a half-brother to stakes-placed Point Blake.

Starlight went on a spree Tuesday afternoon, picking up five yearlings for $800,000, including four that sold for between $100,000 and $150,000 - prices that Berkelhammer considered a little low.

"Some of those might have been softer than expected," Berkelhammer said. "I think the market's been good, but the middle and lower end have probably taken a hit."

But he acknowledged that he bid a premium price for the Eurosilver colt.

"He was an outstanding horse, and obviously someone was butting heads with us," Berkelhammer said. "I thought it was more of a price than what we wanted, but we really liked him, and you don't bring a water pistol to a gunfight."

The Eurosilver colt was Elm Tree's only offering at the sale and was one of two colts to bring $320,000 on Tuesday. The other, Hip No. 466, was a Forest Danger-Brilliant Blaze colt that Gulf Coast Farms purchased from Gainesway, agent.

"I think if you bring good stock it doesn't matter where you sell it," Jody Huckabay said. "You could be at Keeneland in Barn 46, but they'll find a good horse. For this sale, they don't have to be the biggest, but they've got to be athletic. The athletes, they'll pay for them, but you have to have a little pedigree with it to get over the hump."

Other horses bringing $200,000 or more were Hip No. 425, a $280,000 Johannesburg-Tres Facile colt that David Eiffe of Brighton Farm purchased from Nursery Place, agent; Hip No. 314, a $275,000 Eurosilver-Lantana filly that yearling-to-juvenile reseller Nick de Meric, agent, bought from the Bluewater Sales agency; Hip No. 293, a $230,000 Roman Ruler-Jeanne Jones colt that trainer Ken McPeek bought from Brandywine, agent for Liberation Farm and partners; Hip No. 327, a $230,000 Pulpit-Magna Cum Laude colt bought in the name of Edmonton Inc.; Hip No. 515, a $220,000 Mr. Greeley-Fleet Canoe filly, and Hip No. 435, a $200,000 Successful Appeal-Vera's Joy colt, both purchased by Jay Em Ess Stable bought from Nursery Place and Dapple Stud, respectively; and Hip No. 405, a $200,000 Include-Spring colt that Gulf Coast Farms bought from Paramount Sales, agent.

As those prices suggest, horses at the summit paid their sellers well, but the fall-off in prices below $100,000 could be steep.

"The guys that buy $30,000 and $40,000 horses have got other things to spend their money on right now, and it costs more money to raise horses now than it did," said consignor Ron Blake, who sold a Grand Reward-Dance Moccasin for $75,000 Monday but bought back two horses on Tuesday.

In light of higher fuel, hay, and feed prices, Blake, like many of his colleagues, saw a tough yearling market looming even before this auction. And he thinks the current trend of a shrinking middle market is likely to continue all the way to Keeneland's September yearling sale.

"The horses under $50,000 I thought would be in trouble," he said. "You get into the higher-dollar horses, the people that can spend that kind of money have money and always will. Those horses should sell well. But it could make the second half of Keeneland September tough."