09/10/2006 11:00PM

Maktoum spends $29.6M on day 1

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum bought an $8.2 million Storm Cat colt Monday at the Keeneland sale.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland September sale, the world's largest marketplace for Thoroughbred yearlings, has become Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's favorite place to shop. That's the way it seemed on Monday, when the first of two select sessions at the two-week auction rang up a series of high-priced horses for Maktoum's account, including the session-topping $8.2 million Storm Cat colt.

That colt, the first foal for Grade 1 winner Awesome Humor, was just one of 16 purchases totaling $29,660,000 that the sheikh made Monday.

With a record catalog of 5,161 yearlings, the auction house hopes to beat last year's records for gross, average, and median, and Maktoum seemed determined to help them do it.

The opening session grossed $87,900,000 for 163 lots, which was actually down from last year's opener, when a larger group of 188 yearlings sold for $88,712,000. But average climbed this year to $539,264, up from last year's $471,872, and median also rose from $300,000 to $310,000. The buyback rate was 28 percent this year, up from 25 percent last year. Sixteen horses brought $1 million or more, down from 21 last year.

Maktoum was Monday's leading man, striding in and out of the pavilion's back bidding area with an entourage that included his wife, Princess Haya of Jordan; bloodstock adviser John Ferguson; and trainer Saeed bin Suroor. In addition to the $8.2 million Storm Cat colt, Maktoum also bought a $5.7 million Mr. Greeley-Silvester Lady colt from Vinery; a $3 million Storm Cat-Preach colt, a half-brother to Pulpit, from Claiborne Farm, agent; a $2.8 million Vindication-Serena's Tune colt from the Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency; and a $2.8 million Unbridled's Song-Win Crafty Lady from the Taylor Made agency, among others.

But it takes two bidders to make an auction, and other big-name buyers were also in attendance to fight Maktoum and each other for the choice lots. Coolmore Stud owner John Magnier and partner Michael Tabor were underbidders on both the $8.2 million Storm Cat and the $5.7 million Mr. Greeley colt, and they bought a few pricey lots themselves, including a $1 million Fusaichi Pegasus-Squawk colt sold by Gainesway. Also on hand were Jess Jackson, Aaron and Marie Jones, Beverly Lewis, and Ahmed Zayat, all regular players at major auctions.

The presence of such willing spenders was only one reason expectations were high for the September opener. The year had kicked off this spring with a juvenile sale season that fired off a world-record $16 million colt in The Green Monkey, and regional and select yearling markets that preceded the Keeneland September opener had also performed well. But the Keeneland September market often starts conservatively, and it did Monday morning. Early buybacks included a $775,000 Forestry half-brother to juvenile champion Smoke Glacken offered by Darby Dan, agent, and a $450,000 full brother to Grade 1 winner Film Maker.

Early prices were low enough, in fact, that pinhookers - resellers who purchase yearlings to send to the spring juvenile auctions - found themselves among the leading early buyers. The husband-and-wife pinhooking team of Hoby and Layna Kight signed a receipt for the auction's first $1 million colt, a Storm Cat-Safari Moon colt sold as Hip No. 35. That kind of outlay is rare among professional resellers, who prefer smaller, less risky initial investments. But, as Hoby Kight said, his customers at the select juvenile sales are increasingly picky, and he has to splash out for good inventory.

But Kight said he was surprised that he and his partners, Norman Adams and Don Mattox, managed to get the colt for what they considered a discount.

"We don't get a chance to buy a horse like that," Kight said, adding that the colt probably would be pointed for Fasig-Tipton's Calder juvenile sale next spring. "I put pretty much everything on one horse. I thought he'd bring $2 million or $3 million."

But the day provided few bargains, and any horse Maktoum and Magnier liked equally was sure to make a seller's fortune.

Maktoum stood in his customary spot behind the auction ring during the bidding. Magnier stood just a few yards away, but was concealed from Maktoum behind a partition that divides the auction ring's entrance and exit lanes for horses.

Partition or not, when the bidding soared past $6 million it was clear that Maktoum and Magnier were the only bidders who could carry on the duel. They lobbed bids back and forth as a crowd gathered at the back end of the partition, the only spot from which they could see both Magnier, easy to spot in his trademark panama hat, and Maktoum, who leaned against the wall on his side of the partition.

Happily for Bill Casner and Ken Troutt, who bred the $8.2 million colt, neither side wanted to give in on Monday. Casner and Troutt enjoyed a massive return from Storm Cat's $500,000 stud fee and any expenses they incurred raising the colt at their WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky.

Casner was among the knot of spectators watching at the end of the partition. When Maktoum prevailed, Casner turned away from the scene with teary eyes and a dazed expression, as his friends - and his delighted selling agents at Taylor Made Farm - clapped his back and offered congratulations. WinStar breeds both to sell and to race, and someone asked Casner the logical question: If this colt was worth so much as a racing prospect, why not keep him?

"It takes a lot of money to keep that farm rolling," Casner said. "You've got to sell the good ones. We're in the selling business."

And Maktoum is definitely in the buying business. As long as men like Maktoum and Magnier stay in the game, the upper-level sellers will sleep well at night in deeply feathered beds.

"The way Sheikh Mohammed put it," Ferguson said, "is that if you're going to spend a lot of money at the sales, you might as well be buying what you believe are the best horses instead of leaving the horses you liked best behind."

The sale was to continue through Sept. 25, with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m. The second and final select session was to be on Tuesday, and there will be no selling on Friday, Sept. 15.

Top-priced yearlings

The top-selling horses at Monday's opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale:

154dk. b/br coltStorm Cat - Awesome HumorJohn Ferguson$8,200,000
91ch. coltMr. Greeley - Silvester Lady (GB)John Ferguson5,700,000
110ch. fillySeeking the Gold - Take Charge LadyTodd Pletcher3,200,000
60ch. coltStorm Cat - PreachJohn Ferguson3,000,000
83dk. b/br coltVindication - Serena's TuneJohn Ferguson2,800,000
129ch. fillyUnbridled's Song - Win Crafty LadyJohn Ferguson2,800,000
125dk. b/br fillyStorm Cat - Warrior QueenSkara Glen Stables2,200,000
225ch. coltGiant's Causeway - Happy TuneB. Wayne Hughes1,900,000
82ch. coltA.P. Indy - Serena's SongNobutaka Tada1,500,000
141dk. b/br coltKingmambo - Amonita (GB)Nobutaka Tada1,250,000