09/13/2006 12:00AM

Maktoum's spending spree continues


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 5:15 p.m. Eastern.

Maktoum did not engage in a showy public duel for the Petionville filly. On Wednesday, he and his advisors 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, John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, 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. Their 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.