01/07/2008 12:00AM

Mare brings $2.7M at Keeneland

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Irish Cherry, already the dam of Grade 1 winners Spun Sugar and Daaher, put some sizzle in Monday's opening session at the Keeneland January auction when she sold for $2.7 million to Michael Moreno and Eric Guillot's Southern Equine Stables.

Irish Cherry was the only seven-figure horse at the session, which sold 195 horses for a total of $21,325,900, up 12 percent from last year's opener, which sold 211 horses for $18,970,000. The 2008 catalog has 386 fewer horses than last year with 2,547. The average price climbed 22 percent to $109,364. The median stayed level at $55,000. But buy-backs rose from 28 percent to 33 percent this year.

Irish Cherry's price justified consignor John Sikura's decision to put the mare, a 14-year-old daughter of Irish Open, in Keeneland's January sale, rather than in the larger November mixed auction, even though the earlier sale traditionally produces more million-dollar prices.

Had she sold in November, Irish Cherry would have been a strong prospect as the dam of two-time Grade 1 winner Spun Sugar, but she would have been selling alongside other Grade 1 producers. But between November and January, Daaher also stepped up and won the Cigar Mile, making her the dam of two recent Grade 1 winners.

"When that happened, she became very unique," Sikura said of Irish Cherry. "That made her and her pedigree as current as could be."

"I kind of get a little choked up spending that kind of money on an Irish Open mare at her age," said Guillot, who did the bidding. "But when you look at what her produce record is, I don't think there have been that many broodmares at public auction of late that have produced two Grade 1 winners."

Irish Cherry is not as young as the market ideally likes its broodmares today, but Spun Sugar and Daaher were irresistible selling points. She also sold in foal to the 2004 Horse of the Year, Ghostzapper, whose two weanlings to sell in U.S. auctions last year brought $775,000 and $735,000; his first foals will be yearlings this season.

Irish Cherry's in utero Ghostzapper foal, believed to be a colt, also was a big draw, Guillot said.

"The plan is for me to win the Kentucky Derby with the Ghostzapper and syndicate him for $75 million," he joked.

The day's top-priced weanling was Hip No. 338, a Saint Liam-Ministrada filly that Tom Van Meter bought from Robert Courtney's Crestfield agency.

In general, buyers proved highly selective, paying premiums for some high-end horses but creating soft spots for horses buyers felt lacked enough star quality.

"We're only involved in specific, selected items," said buying agent Richard Galpin, "and if you look at that aspect of the market, we're seeing a strong market with strong buying interest for anything that ticks some of the boxes. If they do that, they're seeing very healthy trade. But, for the others, there is almost no one there."

Premium Tap's dam, Premium Red, set the early pace when she brought $700,000 from the Saudi Arabian stable that now campaigns Premium Tap under his new name, Allam.

An adviser, Frank McGovern, purchased Premium Red, a 14-year-old Thirty Six Red mare, on behalf of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud and his sons. The stable purchased Premium Tap last January after he won the Grade 1 Clark Handicap. Now 6, he since has won twice in Saudi Arabia and finished second behind Invasor in the 2007 Dubai World Cup.

Legacy Bloodstock sold Premium Red, in foal to First Samurai, on behalf of Coushatta, La., resident Ken Clark. Buying agent McGovern said Premium Red's new owners would ship her to Saudi Arabia, but her breeding plans for 2008 were undecided.

"We didn't think she'd make that much," McGovern said. "She's quite a small mare and getting on in age."

"We were wondering how the market would appraise her," Legacy's co-owner Mark Toothaker said, "but she's thrown big, leggy foals, and we knew that anyone who had seen her foals would know that even though she's average-sized, she throws bigger foals.

"It just goes to show, if you bring a nice mare to Keeneland, you're gonna get paid."

Unless the offer isn't as high as your reserve, as happened with Hip No. 152. The Zafonic mare Attima had figured to be a top-priced horse on Monday. The mare is just 5 and was selling as a broodmare prospect off a race record that featured a pair of Grade 2 victories in California and a Group 3 placing in France for owners Anthony Fanticola and Joseph Scardino. But Attima returned to consignor Hill 'n' Dale as a $775,000 buy-back.

"That's full value," agent Sikura said. "When you sell horses, you have different levels of sellers. People determine what a horse is worth to them, and if it doesn't reach that price, they're happy to keep her."

Also at the Monday session, Hip No. 234, Flying Glitter, sold for $620,000 in foal to Empire Maker. She was sold by Noel Murphy's Castle Park agency to Aaron and Marie Jones. Hip No. 123, Two Item Limit, in foal to Bernardini, was sold for $525,000 by Three Chimneys agency to an undisclosed owner represented by Emmanuel de Seroux's Narvick International agency. Hip No. 206, Deputy of Wood, sold for $460,000 in foal to Smart Strike. She also went to Aaron and Marie Jones from the Chesapeake Farm agency.

The Keeneland January all-ages sale continues through Jan. 13 here, with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.