02/27/2008 12:00AM

Gross falls 20 percent at F-T Calder sale

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MIAMI - Fasig-Tipton's selected 2-year-old sale at Calder Race Course in Miami on Tuesday showed that while big money is still available, select-sale buyers are feeling conservative.

The auction sold 18 percent fewer horses this year, 102 as compared to 124 a year ago, and that resulted in a 20 percent drop in gross. Average held nearly level with last year, falling 2 percent to $344,118, but median was off by 8 percent, falling from $250,000 to $230,000. Buy-backs improved by 1 percentage point, dropping from 41 percent to 40 percent, but remained high.

The sale topper this year was a $2.1omillion Street Cry colt, a half-brother to stakes winner Elliecat, that Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum bought from David Scanlon's Scanlon Training Center agency.

The Calder auction, the second major juvenile sale of the year, failed to keep pace with gains set earlier this month at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s select 2-year-old sale. That sale saw its average jump 18 percent to $157,640 and median rise 25 percent to $125,000, both records for the sale. If the OBS auction revealed a comforting solidity in the middle market for select racing prospects, the Calder sale's results emphasized a trend seen last year: There are buyers for highly select and highly expensive 2-year-olds, but they are less willing to spend than they used to be.

"There's more rationality and less emotion at the top end of the market in 2008 than compared to five years ago or three years ago," said Fasig-Tipton chief operating officer Boyd Browning. "They care what they give."

One missing element: clashes between Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum and his frequent rival John Magnier of Coolmore Stud. Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson, and Coolmore's Demi O'Byrne each left the sale with horses, but they never appeared to bid against each other. In past years, their bidding duels have fueled exorbitant prices in select markets, most notably at the 2006 Calder sale, where O'Byrne outbid Ferguson for the world-record-priced The Green Monkey for $16 million.

Browning acknowledged the "lack of significant skirmishes" as a factor in the upper-market downturn but also noted that bidders who previously would have paid $1 million or more for their 2-year-old prospects now appear to be pulling up on final bids between $500,000 and $750,000.

Even with the lower ceiling, Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson remained cool in his assessment of the market, calling it "a similar market to last year."

The next major select juvenile auction is the Barretts sale in Pomona, Calif., on March 12.