09/12/2005 12:00AM

Maktoums open wallets

This son of Storm Cat, sold for $3.5 million, was among a $19 million buying spree by the three Maktoum brothers on day one of the sale.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Any bidders arriving via plane in Lexington for the two-week Keeneland September yearling sale, which opened Monday, had a pretty good idea about their competition. A pair of massive, double-decker jumbo jets inscribed in Arabic stood at Blue Grass Airport, suggesting that buyers from the United Arab Emirates had arrived in force.

Their entourage was large, but it only takes three Maktoum brothers to rock a select yearling market: Sheikh Mohammed, Sheikh Maktoum, and Sheikh Hamdan. At least two of them - Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Maktoum - attended the auction in person. (Sheikh Hamdan was widely thought to be in attendance, though receipts signed on his Shadwell Farm account were spirited into a private office, making verification of his presence difficult.) And their presence was welcome indeed for Monday's yearling sellers.

As of 6:30 p.m. Eastern, Sheikh Mohammed had bought the session's three highest-priced lots, a $3.5 million Storm Cat colt out of champion Serena's Song that Bob and Beverly Lewis (Denali Stud, agent) sold; a $3.4 million A.P. Indy colt out of Grade 2 winner Sahara Gold that Stonerside (Lane's End, agent) offered; and a $3 million Storm Cat colt out of champion Ajina that Taylor Made, agent, consigned. As the sale wound toward the end of its first session, the Maktoum brothers together had accounted for at least $19 million in yearling purchases. Their aggressive bidding helped push the number of million-dollar horses in the opening session to 21, breaking the previous single-session record of 19.

In addition to Sheikh Mohammed's purchases above $3 million, the Maktoum brothers also made a number of other splashy buys above $1 million. These included Sheikh Mohammed's $1.7 million Unbridled's Song-Escrow Agent colt from Winter Quarter Farm, agent; a $1.5 million Kingmambo-Balistroika filly and a $1.4 million Lemon Drop Kid-Myth to Reality colt that Sheikh Maktoum's Gainsborough Stud bought from Eaton Sales, agent, and Lane's End, agent, respectively; and a $1.1 million Storm Cat-Onaga filly that Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell bought from Taylor Made, agent.

Such flashy numbers overshadowed, at least temporarily, sellers' concerns about the rest of the auction. While they had expected market strength in first two select days, consignors fretted the later open sessions would be more difficult, hampered by fewer buyers, a record catalog of 5,110 horses, and lingering economic worries in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. But the open sessions felt very far away on Monday as billionaires clashed over the auction's choicest lots.

Sheikh Mohammed, in particular, seemed to be enjoying his spending spree. Accompanied by his wife, Princess Haya, and his regular agent, John Ferguson, the sheikh shuttled between the back walking ring and a narrow, wedge-shaped bidding area behind the pavilion. He handled his own bidding, casting $100,000 bids with a quick nod to an expressionless spotter, and, more often than not, he walked away from each bidding duel the easy winner. Ferguson was left to make the public statements after his client swept back through the mobbing press corps and onlookers without comment.

"They were two lovely horses," Ferguson said of Hip Nos. 67 and 74, the $3.4 million A. P. Indy and $3.5 million Storm Cat colts Sheikh Mohammed had spent almost $7 million on within about 15 minutes. "Just like at any other Keeneland September sale, the horses that combine the conformation, the pedigree, and the athleticism, you have to go hard."

The major beneficiaries of Sheikh Mohammed's hard going on the $3.5 million Storm Cat colt were Bob and Beverly Lewis, whose four sale yearlings out of Serena's Song have brought a combined $10.7 million.

The boiling market prompted Bob Lewis to spend a little himself. He signed for a $2.7 million Mr. Greeley-Silvery Swan filly sold by the Hill 'n' Dale agency and for a $1 million Forest Camp-Taegu colt offered by Brereton Jones's Airdrie agency, among others.

Lewis had no regrets about spending more than he had made at the auction, and, he said, he would have been as happy not to have sold the $3.5 million colt.

"We set what we considered to be a very strong reserve, and maybe it was too cheap!" he quipped. "Before the sale, we resolved that the reserve was a price we would be happy with, but we would be equally happy if he didn't make the reserve and we kept him."

When the Lewises bought the $2.7 million Mr. Greeley filly, they gave her breeders a huge windfall. Rob Whiteley of Liberation Farm bred the dark bay filly in partnership with Needham/Betz Thoroughbreds, and he said he knew the full sister to Grade 1 winner El Corredor was something extraordinary from the moment she was foaled.

"Just like El Corredor, she had balance, intelligence, and a certain presence that just makes you want to stand back and admire her," Whiteley said. "Every now and then they come along like that, and it's very special when it happens."

Special ones were coming along a lot at the Keeneland opener, if the prices were any indication. Some would-be players barely got a hand in the air before the bidding had roared past them, borne along by such bidders as the Maktoums and their frequent rivals at Coolmore, whose purchases included a $1.5 million Giant's Causeway-Golden Attraction colt from Overbrook (Eaton, agent) and a $1.45 million Danehill-Hidden Storm filly from Castleton Lyons, agent.

But a few other buyers were able to snap up pricey lots. Live Oak Plantation went to $2.7 million to acquire a Kingmambo-Escena filly from Falls Creek Farm (Denali, agent); Lee Einsidler paid $1.7 million for a Storm Cat half-brother to 2002 juvenile champion Vindication sold by Virginia Kraft Payson and Overbrook Farm (Taylor Made, agent); B. Wayne Hughes bought a $1.6 million Gone West-Santa Catalina colt from Gainesway, agent, and a $1.05 million Danzig-Celtic Melody filly from ClassicStar (Taylor Made, agent); and Coolmore secured a $1.6 million Storm Cat-Simadartha colt from Taylor Made, agent.

Whether that promising start would trickle down as hoped to later sellers remained to be seen.

The Keeneland September auction continues through Sept. 26, with daily sessions beginning at 10 a.m., except on the dark day of Sept. 16.

The Storm Cat influence

Top sellers at Monday's opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale:

74CStorm Cat - Serena's Song$3,500,000
67CA.P. Indy - Sahara Gold 3,400,000
136CStorm Cat - Ajina3,000,000
84FMr. Greeley - Silvery Swan 2,700,000
205FKingmambo - Escena2,700,000
98FStorm Cat - Strawberry Reason1,700,000
206CUnbridled's Song - Escrow Agent1,700,000
69CGone West - Santa Catalina 1,600,000
85CStorm Cat - Simadartha 1,600,000
62CUnbridled's Song - Roll Over Baby 1,500,000
152FKingmambo - Balistroika 1,500,000
234CGiant's Causeway - Golden Attraction1,500,000
261FStorm Cat - L'Affirmed1,500,000

Source: Keeneland Association

Serena's Song: Big in the ring

The performance at public auction of yearlings produced by Serena's Song, at Keeneland September in 2005 and 2003 and Keeneland July in 2001, 2000, and 1999:

2005CunnamedStorm Cat$3,500,000
2001CArbitrateDeputy Ministerout
2000FSophisticatStorm Cat3,400,000
1999FSerena's TuneMr. Prospector1,000,000

Totals: 5 yearlings, $10,700,000 gross, $2,675,000 average
Source: The Jockey Club Information Service