09/09/2002 12:00AM

Lukas steps out to buy Danzig colt for $2.4M

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Many consignors predicted doom and gloom for Monday's opener at the 12-day Keeneland September yearling sale, but there was ample money on hand for the right horse.

As of 5:30 p.m. Eastern time, the session-leading price was the healthy $2.4 million that trainer D. Wayne Lukas paid for Middlebrook Farm's Danzig colt out of Aquilegia. And though no horse by that time had come close to the sale-record $6.8 million that Michael Tabor paid for Tasmanian Tiger two years ago, there were five other millionaires and a host of lots sold in the high six figures.

The top filly at the time was Hip No. 192, a $1.2 million Thunder Gulch yearling who is a full sister to Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain. Demi O'Byrne, an adviser to Tabor, signed the ticket. O'Byrne later signed for a $2.15 million Seeking the Gold-Gioconda colt, a three-quarter brother to grade one winner Ciro.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's representative, John Ferguson, also was active, spending $3,140,000 for four lots including a $1.65 million Deputy Minister-Highest Glory colt sold by Middlebrook, agent.

It was not clear whom Lukas was bidding for in acquiring the Danzig colt. Uncharacteristically, he bid from behind the auction ring, standing alone and apparently without a client nearby. Swarmed by reporters after he signed the ticket, Lukas said only, "We'll try to find a partnership. We'll take him home and do something."

As for the price, Lukas said, "When they're really exceptional and have a pedigree that can make a stallion, you have to step up and pay for them. This one had a lot of things going for him."

Those things included his sire, the successful and fashionable sire Danzig. The colt's dam, Aquilegia, is a Grade 2 stakes winner and full sister to champion 2-year-old filly Althea. Her other foals include group stakes winner Bertolini, a full brother to the colt Lukas bought, and the stakes-winning Dixieland Band filly Amelia.

Two million-dollar lots preceded Lukas's $2.4 million purchase. Jeanne Vance and Laddie Dance bought a $1 million Storm Cat colt out of a full sister to champion Banshee Breeze from Mill Ridge, agent, and Reynolds Bell Jr. acquired a $1 million A.P. Indy colt out of stakes-winner Wild Planet from Lane's End, agent, on behalf of his client, Richard Santulli.

Even as they paid those prices, some buyers felt the market was significantly easier to bid in than it has been in the last several years, when horses in the range of $4 million to $7 million have topped select yearling sales.

"We're happy with what we got him for," said Flint S. "Scotty" Schulhofer, who joined his son, Randy, on the selection team for Vance and Dance. "It seems a little softer than before."

There were myriad reasons for the softness. Most obvious were the unexpected death earlier this summer of The Thoroughbred Corporation's Prince Ahmed bin Salman, the relative inactivity of dominant buyer Coolmore Stud, and Satish Sanan's decision to skip the September sale altogether.

"There's a big gap in the group of buyers," said Eugene Melnyk, who bid on the $2.4 million Danzig and purchased four others for a total of $1,370,000 early in the afternoon. "We're seeing a lot of horses in the $200,000 to $600,000 range that two years ago would have brought $500,000 to $1 million. That's good for a buyer."

Last year's Keeneland September sale was disrupted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks but still managed to achieve its second-highest gross of $254,190,600 and an average of $87,803. This year's select yearling markets have taken a plunge at their highest levels. Keeneland July was down 33 percent in gross and 31 percent in average with a 40 percent buyback rate. Fasig-Tipton Saratoga, though it posted a less-garish 29 percent buyback rate, also dropped 44 percent in gross and 35 percent in average.

The early going at Keeneland September seemed to confirm consignors' pre-sale fears that the early fall auction would suffer across-the-board drops at least as steep as the 20- to 30-percent declines seen at the upper levels of Keeneland's July and Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga auctions. But even before the $2.4 million colt came into the ring, it was clear that even as prices fell generally, some of the world's big buyers were still prepared to bid for horses they liked.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, Coolmore's perennial rival in the bidding ring, did not attend the auction in person this year, and his absence sent a momentary chill through the sale barns. But Ferguson and trainer Eoin Harty both came as usual and bid aggressively for the sheikh. Their purchases included a $700,000 Arch-Resurge colt, a $400,000 Seeking the Gold-Salchow colt, and a $390,000 Gone West-Ringshaan (Fr) colt.

Vance and Dance took advantage of lessened competition and spent lavishly, buying the $1 million Storm Cat, a $750,000 Deputy Minister-Runup the Colors colt and a $700,000 Danzig-Weekend in Seattle colt from Lane's End; and a $500,000 Pulpit--Starry Dreamer colt from Claiborne.

The sale was to continue with a second select session on Tuesday, followed by 10 open sessions. The sale runs through Sept. 21, with a dark day on Friday, Sept. 13.

* The 2002 September sale marked a historic moment when Lisa Douglas, the first woman to handle a horse in the Keeneland auction ring since the company's first sale in 1944, grasped the lead shank and led Hip No. 28 into the sale ring. Douglas is a stud groom at WinStar Farm near Lexington. Hip No. 28, a Danzig half-sister to Grade 3 winner Antoniette, returned to seller Calumet Farm after failing to reach her reserve on a $225,000 bid.