09/13/2006 12:00AM

Maktoum springs for third straight topper

Pope McLean's Crestwood Farm agency consigned a Petionville filly (above) who sold for $900,000 to Sheikh Mohammed on the third day of the Keeneland September sale.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's private plane - not a commuter plane, but a 747 big enough to hold his entourage - was still parked at Blue Grass Airport on Wednesday when Keeneland's September sale started its third session. The sight undoubtedly warmed consignors' hearts, and with good reason.

Maktoum had spent a total of $56.8 million in the auction's first two days, its select sessions. The most expensive of the 25 yearlings Maktoum bought was the sale topper, an $11.7 million son of Kingmambo and Crown of Crimson that Burleson Farms consigned on behalf of Jayeff B Stables.

Alas, by Wednesday the days of $11.7 million yearlings were over, at least for this year. But Maktoum's personal spending spree was not. Early in the Wednesday session, he sprang for a $900,000 Petionville filly out of stakes winner Ticket to Houston. The filly is a full sister to Grade 2 winner and Grade 1-placed Runway Model and a half-sister to Grade 2-placed stakes winner Mambo Train. Her price was still the session's top price at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

Maktoum did not engage in a showy public duel for the Petionville filly. On Wednesday, he and his advisers were camped out of sight in the Keeneland directors' room. Public or not, the sheikh's purchase was welcome news for Pope McLean, whose Crestwood Farm agency consigned the filly.

"It was fun," McLean admitted. But the price wasn't entirely surprising to him, as he explained.

"The full sister, after she won the Alcibiades, they reportedly turned down $2.5 million for her," he said. "We sold the dam last year for $2 million in foal to Storm Cat. And this filly was just an exceptionally nice filly. She was very athletic and had a big, strong walk. One of the best things about her was that, as many times as she was shown to people, she still had this amazing presence. She'd come out and stand like a statue with her ears pricked."

Maktoum's rival, Coolmore owner John Magnier, also wasn't done buying. His agent, Demi O'Byrne, signed for a $700,000 Johannesburg-Bullville Belle colt from the Eaton Sales agency on Wednesday.

Even taking Maktoum and Magnier out of the equation, prices remained buoyant as the open stock came to market. As Maktoum and his frequent underbidder, Magnier, slowed their spending on Wednesday, it gave other buyers a realistic chance to secure yearlings they liked. Even buyers used to spending in the $1 million to $2 million range could barely get a bid in on Monday and Tuesday when Maktoum and Magnier owned the top of the market. Those buyers' exasperation was evident to Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell, who said Tuesday night that some of the auction house's major buyers had complained that the bidding escalated so far and so fast that they hadn't even been able to raise their hands for horses they had hoped to buy.

One high roller, Ahmed Zayat, was so incensed at being outbid on one selection that he stormed out of the pavilion in disgust as the price zipped past his limit. Zayat, it should be said, came back on Tuesday to buy a $4.6 million Vindication-Silvery Swan colt from the Hill 'n' Dale agency.

Small consignors do quite well

McLean's cell phone wouldn't stop ringing with congratulatory calls after his Crestwood Farm sold the $900,000 session-leading filly Wednesday. McLean is one of Keeneland's smaller consignors. Boutique dealers like Crestwood, which brought just 38 lots to the sale this season, have done very well at this auction, and McLean was only the latest example.

On Tuesday, the session's top three lots were all consigned by smaller sellers or agents, and they racked up eye-popping numbers. Lyn Burleson's Burleson Farms made its sales debut at the September auction and sold the $11.7 million sale topper on behalf of clients Richard Santulli and George Prussin of Jayeff B Stables. Another smaller seller, Gary Knapp's Monticule Farm, consigned a $9.2 million Danzig-Sharp Minister colt, the second most expensive lot. And Tuesday's third-highest-priced horse, a $5.2 million Danzig-Al Theraab colt, was sold by the Indian Creek agency, which has 40 horses in the auction.

In a record catalog of 5,161 yearlings and alongside consignors who sometimes sell 100 or more lots, these smaller sellers consistently perform well at Keeneland September.

"I think it's all about the individual you bring to sell," said McLean. "If you have a good individual to offer, the buyers will find it."

Shack Parrish of Indian Creek agreed, and added that smaller consignors may actually have a marketing advantage over larger consignments.

"I know there are buyers who like to buy horses that came from farms where the horses were born, raised, prepped, and sold," he said.

The original owner of the $5.2 million Danzig colt, breeder Bjorn Nielson of Greenwich, Conn., is a prime example of the kind of client that suits smaller consignors. Nielson has two mares at Indian Creek and is intimately engaged in the process of choosing matings for his animals. When he calls the farm, he gets to talk directly to the principals, even though he has just the two mares. Small sellers say they pride themselves on that kind of customer service.

"I'm not knocking larger consignors," McLean said, "but sometimes I wonder, if you have 300 or 400 horses, how can you put as much emphasis on an individual as a smaller consignor can?

"I don't think the buyers discriminate against the smaller consignors," he added. "They're scouting for good horses. If you have one, whether you're big or small, they'll find it."