09/13/2012 3:44PM

Keeneland sale: Pletcher putting together partnership for $750,000 Giant's Causeway colt

A Giant's Causeway's colt purchased for $750,000 by Todd Pletcher, topped Thursday's session as of late afternoon.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Keeneland’s September yearling sale approached the end of its Book 2 sessions Thursday with momentum that appeared likely to carry it to a fourth consecutive day of gains.

At 4 p.m. Eastern, a $750,000 Giant’s Causeway colt led Thursday’s session on a final bid from Todd Pletcher, who signed as agent for a partnership. Four Star Sales, agent, sold the April 2 foal. The bay son of Good Vibes, by Unbridled’s Song, is a half-brother to group-placed Warning Flag, now a stakes winner in Hong Kong running under the name Sweet Orange.

With 108 yearlings sold, the session average was at $174,028 and session median stood at $145,000, outpacing last season’s final Thursday session average of $162,873 and median of $130,000.

Year-to-year comparisons this year are complicated by the fact that Keeneland has reformatted the auction, trimming the select sessions from two days to one. That made direct comparisons difficult. On Wednesday – the last session for which complete figures were available – 196 yearlings brought $34,573,000, a 5 percent increase over the total for 215 yearlings at last year’s Wednesday session, the most comparable day in 2011. Average climbed 16 percent, from $152,649 to $176,393, and median also increased by double digits, rising 12 percent from last season’s $130,000 to $145,000 on Wednesday.

Session buybacks also stayed on an upward trend, going from 24 percent at last year’s equivalent session to 27 percent on Wednesday.

Cumulatively through Wednesday – the last session for which final number were available – the auction had sold 457 horses for $97,103,000, a decline of 13 percent; that was expected due to a 20 percent smaller catalog. The three-day average was 4 percent ahead of last year’s at the same point, session two of Book 2, at $212,479. Median was running behind by 12 percent at $150,000 versus $170,000 through last year’s second Book 2 session.

Overall buybacks, like Wednesday’s session buybacks, also were up. The three-day 2012 buyback rate was 27 percent as opposed to 30 percent last year.

Pletcher’s session-leading $750,000 Giant’s Causeway colt was well below the price of Wednesday’s session-topper, a $1.55 million Bernardini-Wilshewed colt that Coolmore bought from Bill and Betty Currin (Valkyre Stud, agent).

Asked whether he had signed the $750,000 ticket for Coolmore, which stands Giant’s Causeway, Pletcher said no, adding: ”It’s for a group I’m putting together. I’m working in it still. Some of the same people I’ve been buying for at this sale might put together a partnership.”

Pletcher said the partnership would likely be made up of domestic investors for a colt he called “outstanding.”

One of the most expensive yearlings of the day was a $625,000 Empire Maker colt that B. Wayne Hughes bought. The bay late March foal is out of the A.P. Indy mare Inda. She’s a full sister to La Reina, out of the champion and excellent producer Queena. The price catapulted the colt into an early spot as the second most expensive yearling, behind Pletcher’s $750,000 colt. But consignor Antony Beck of Gainesway Farm expressed a view that was general among Book 2 consignors: the post-2008 market might be gaining ground, but it still is far from easy to sell a horse.

“There seems to be an even greater polarization in the market right now,” Beck said. “A lot of probably good racehorses are going for less money than they should.

But, Beck added, the market was “fantastically strong” considering that some of the most prolific and moneyed buyers of the last several years hadn’t shown up on this year’s results sheet.

Beck was referring to the hole left by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who frequently in the past has attended the auction in person and bought numerous horses, and the flamboyant and gregarious Benjamin Leon Jr., another major player at the market’s top in the last two years. Together, those two men spent more than $17 million for 49 yearlings at this auction last year and were, respectively, the sale’s top two buyers. Through late afternoon Thursday, Maktoum’s agent, John Ferguson, had bought only two yearlings, a $270,000 Invincible Spirit-Ballette colt from Greenwood Lodge Farm and Stonereath Farms and a $130,000 Elusive Quality-Acting Lady colt from Padraig Campion’s Blandford Stud agency. Leon’s name had yet to appear publicly on a ticket.

Buyer Hughes acknowledged that he would only have made a couple of more bids on the $625,000 Empire Maker colt if the underbidder, Mike Ryan, hadn’t pulled up.

“I think the market is sort of fair,” Hughes said. “There’s good horses, and the prices are high, but they’re not as high as they used to be.”

That was enough to help bloodstock agent J.B. McKathan convince client David Shimmon to step up his action in the bloodstock market. Shimmon, who once spent $4.2 million on a yearling (Distinction), recently returned to some prominence in the game as co-owner of The Factor, and on Thursday his Fog City Stables added a $510,000 Tapit colt. Beck’s Gainesway agency also consigned that colt, a half-brother to graded winner Adriano. The colt is a gray or roan April 14 foal from the Mr. Prospector mare Gold Canyon.

“I spoke to him earlier in the year, and, you know, he was active back when everything was really crazy and real expensive,” McKathan said. “I told him, ‘You know, the market’s kind of eased down a little bit, and it’s a good time to get back in.’ He agreed, so I think he jumped back in because, compared to the past, these horses are value.”

Fox Hill Farms also bought a Tapit, going to $300,000 for a January foal out of graded-placed Home Court. VanMeter Sales was the consigning agent. That was one of five horses Fox Hill had bought by late afternoon, spending a total of $1,110,000.

One other yearling had sold for $500,000 or more by that point in the sale. Charlotte Weber’s Live Oak Plantation bought a $500,000 half-brother to champion Dreaming of Anna from Mt. Brilliant Farm. The Irish-bred Distorted Humor colt, a March 13 foal, also is a half-brother to Lewis Michael and a full brother to Jusenuffhumor. He’s out of Justenuffheart.

“I think the market’s showing signs of recovering,” said Pletcher, the session-leader’s buyer. “It’s still hard to buy the really good ones. We haven’t had any blow-out prices of the $4 million types, but you’ve still got to bring plenty of money when you find one you like.”

After a dark day Friday, the auction will resume with Book 3 and continue selling through Sept. 21, beginning daily at 10 a.m.