09/17/2010 3:51PM

New Keeneland format seems to be paying off

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – A-list buyers were still on the grounds and buying Friday afternoon as the Keeneland September yearling sale neared the end of its first week, and five days of upbeat results appeared to justify Keeneland executives’ decision to reformat the 14-day auction.

At 3 p.m., the day’s high price was the $500,000 that trainer Bob Baffert paid for a Ghostzapper three-quarter-brother to Grade 1 winner Sugar Shake. The Taylor Made agency consigned the colt, who is out of the Grade 2-winning Skip Trial mare Skipping Around.

Baffert purchased the horse for Lookin at Lucky’s owners, Mike Pegram, Paul Weitman, and Karl Watson, who became the colt’s owners simply because Pegram answered the phone when Baffert called from the Keeneland walking ring. That was where Baffert saw the bay colt for the first time, moments before bidding.

“They don’t know yet how much they paid,” Baffert said, pulling out his cell phone to give Pegram the news. “They’re the only ones that answered their phones. I was calling people. They said, ‘If you see something you like in the last few days,’ so . . . .

“He looked pretty exceptional,” he said of the colt. “I see them in the back and I call people and tell them, ‘I like this horse.’ He looked very fast, and we’re all looking for fast. But I didn’t think he was going to cost that much. You can’t steal a horse here.”

Earlier in the session, Baffert also paid $470,000 for the Paramount Sales agency’s Malibu Moon colt on behalf of former MGM Mirage chairman Terrence Lanni’s Lanni Family Trust.That colt was out of an unraced Tactical Cat mare, Robbery Suspect. The colt’s “cousin,” as Bafftert put it, was the Grade 1-winning colt Pohave, a son of Holy Bull and half-brother to Robbery Suspect that Baffert remembered well. Also in the family is Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, now sire, Cat Thief.

Baffert bid for both colt from behind the auctioneer’s stand, near the walking ring.

After Thursday’s fifth session, the sale had grossed $118,690,000 for 724 yearlings, yielding an average price of $163,936 and a $110,000 median. Buy-backs were slightly lower at 32 percent. Both average and median figures were comparing favorably to last year’s cumulative figures. Through day five last season, the auction had sold 941 horses for $136,099,000, resulting in a $144,632 average and a $100,000 median. The cumulative buy-back rate was 34 percent.

Smart Strike was Thursday’s hot sire, getting joint session-toppers for $550,000.

Ahmed Zayat bought a colt out of the Deputy Minister mare Madame Thor, and George Bolton purchased a filly out of My Miss Storm Cat, by Sea of Secrets. Both were consigned by the Gainesway agency.

The long opening week has taken its toll on consignors and barn staff, who faced long hours, late nights, and, for many, the logistical problems of selling a single consignment’s horses out of more than one barn. The first week’s catalog was dramatically reformatted this year as Keeneland’s experiment to boost interest and activity. Under the new format, Keeneland offered half the usual number of horses in its first two select sessions, which it also moved from day to night sessions. Book two, traditionally covering four days in two catalogs, was expanded to comprise 1,500 horses over the four days, followed by a dark day. Selling resumes much as in previous years after Saturday’s dark day.

Baffert said he was pleasantly surprised to find the new format to his liking.

“I didn’t like it at first, because, you know, as a trainer, I can’t be here too many days,” he said. “But, actually, now that it’s over with I think it’s good, because it gave us a chance to look at the top ones from several days.”

Baffert added that he liked the new, smaller select-session format, echoing many upper-level buyers who said they found it easier to sift through the more select group of yearlings.

“And it generated a little buzz in the air,” Baffert said. “It was nice to see one good horse after another good horse after another good horse, that was good.

“It was like the July sale,” he added, referring to the Keeneland July select sale that has not been held since 2002. “All these Mercedeses come rolling in. And then the Chevys start coming in later.”

Mill Ridge Sales, which consigned the likely sale-topping A. P. Indy-Balance colt for $14.2 million on Sunday night, was prominent on the results sheet again Friday with a $350,000 sale. That was what Repole Stables (Crupi’s New Castle Farm, agent) paid for a Street Cry colt out of Grade 1 winner and millionaire Sand Springs. The Dynaformer mare is already a stakes-producer as the dam of Group 3-placed Mellon Martini, by Sadler’s Wells, a French stakes-winner this year.

Greg Goodman’s Mt. Brilliant Farm also had a banner day. Its highlights were a $300,000 Awesome Again-Shades of Grace colt that Ben Glass, agent, bought for Mary and Gary West, and a $270,000 Bernardini-Rahy Rose filly that John Ferguson bought for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s account.

Other high-priced yearlings sold Friday included a $285,000 Mr. Greeley-Queenie Cat filly that EQB (Patrice Miller, agent) bought from the Hill ‘n’ Dale agency, a $250,000 Ghostzapper-Rutledge Ballado colt that F. Thomas Conway purchased from Gainesway, representing the Estate of Hermen Greenberg, and a $250,000 Unbridled’s Song colt out of Grade 3-placed stakes winner Somethinaboutbetty that Stonestreet Stables bought from Siena Farm (Taylor Made, agent).

Selling was to resume Sunday at 10 a.m. after a dark day on Saturday and continue daily through Sept. 26.