Updated on 09/15/2011 12:48PM

Power was in bids on record night

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Diorio / Horsephotos
$3 million colt by Mr. Prospector

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - As bidding got underway at the final session of Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga selected yearling sale Thursday night, a thunderstorm blew into town and knocked the lights out at the Humphrey S. Finney Sale Pavilion.

The blackout left a house full of well-heeled buyers sitting in the dark, and a Deputy Commander colt standing patiently in the ring, until a generator was switched on minutes later. When the lights came on again, the auction took off in a fury of bidding that rivaled the blustery weather outside, producing the richest single session in the auction's long history.

Topped by a pair of $3 million colts, by Kingmambo and Mr. Prospector, the session ran up a record single-session average of $459,019. That swelled the three-day auction's total revenue to $62,412,000 for 162 lots, up 49 percent from last year, when 137 yearlings sold. The three-day average also set a new mark of $385,259, up 26 percent from last year's record of $305,847. The median jumped 24 percent to $235,000.

No yearling at the torrid Thursday night session beat Wednesday's sale-topper, a $3.3 million Storm Cat-Gone to Venus colt bought by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum. But several high-voltage clashes threw sparks.

Agent Demi O'Byrne, representing Michael Tabor and John Magnier, made off with the $3 million Kingmambo-Seattle Way colt. Trainer Bob Baffert, bidding via phone from California, took the $3 million Mr. Prospector-Stone Flower colt and a $1.6 million Saint Ballado-Pulsatilla colt. Padua Stables bought a $2.15 million Seattle Slew-Strawberry Reason colt, and Canadian owner Eugene Melnyk acquired a $1.7 million Grand Slam-Shining Through colt.

A notable absence from Thursday's list of seven-digit buyers was Sheikh Mohammed's representative John Ferguson, who had signed for the $3.3 million sale-topper 24 hours earlier.

Ferguson usually bids from outside the pavilion, a habit that makes him an invisible but intimidating force for bidders inside the arena. On a normal evening, Ferguson, with two or three silent colleagues, would stand nonchalantly between the back walking ring and the outdoor bid-spotter's booth.

But in Thursday's slashing rain, Ferguson - accompanied by Jimmy Bell of Jonabell Farm, the Kentucky property Sheikh Mohammed bought earlier in the week - settled for seats in the front row of the pavilion's upstairs gallery, to the left of auctioneer Walt Robertson.

O'Byrne, who had not bought anything in the previous two days, also slipped into the pavilion for Hip No. 193, sitting in a back-row seat in a corner of the pavilion almost directly below Ferguson.

Bidding opened at $100,000 and rose by hundred thousands, but things didn't get serious until Robertson asked O'Byrne for $1 million. O'Byrne signaled $950,000, hinting that he might be weakening. Ferguson - who bids with the slight nod of a man acknowledging an acquaintance across a crowded room - countered with $1 million; O'Byrne threw in another $100,000 for $1.1 million.

For spectators leaning over the gallery railings, it was a rare view of both men bidding in the same room. O'Byrne gestured and mouthed bids to his spotter, turning from time to time to discuss matters with Clem Murphy, the CFO of Magnier's Coolmore Stud. Upstairs, there was no discussion. Bell sat, chin in hand, as if he were in the pavilion purely by accident; Ferguson, backed by Sheikh Mohammed's bank account, rapidly countered O'Byrne's bids, as if he were swatting flies.

But O'Byrne kept at it. At $3 million, Ferguson frowned slightly and leaned forward to take a long look at the bay colt with the three socks and lopsided white splash on his nose. Ferguson glanced at his spotter and shook his head.

Consignor Bettina Jenney, the widow of Derry Meeting Farm founder Marshall Jenney, had a perfect view of the action from three rows behind Ferguson. When the hammer fell for O'Byrne, Bettina Jenney's eyes brimmed with tears. In its first Saratoga consignment since her husband's death last year, Derry Meeting sold its top-selling yearling, on behalf of breeder George Strawbridge.

"I miss Marshall more tonight than any other night, because he would have been so proud," said Jenney, who sat with advisor James Wigan.

O'Byrne also threw some punches in the fight over the $3 million Mr. Prospector colt less than an hour later. The dark bay colt was a rare commodity, and not just because he was the only Mr. Prospector yearling in the auction. He also was a member of that highly successful sire's final crop. Mr. Prospector, sire of 16 champions, died in 1999 at age 29.

Virtually every major player on hand cast a bid for this yearling. David Shimmon, seated with trainer D. Wayne Lukas, tried his money. Eugene Melnyk also was in. O'Byrne, after going to $2.3 million, turned his back to the spotter and watched the rest of the bidding on a television monitor near the walking ring.

Inside the pavilion, Baffert, via cell phone, held off a challenge by Padua Stables' Nadia Sanan, who was hidden in the pavilion's sound booth, where, squeezed behind the man who operates Fasig-Tipton's microphone system, she relayed her father's bids. Baffert prevailed, but Sanan came back to acquire a $2.15 million Seattle Slew colt two hips later.

As the sale wound down and the crowd's thoughts turned to celebration, a second storm thundered into town, and Fasig-Tipton announcer Terence Collier relayed the only bad news of the night: Siro's restaurant, the popular post-auction nightspot across Union Avenue from the pavilion, was out of power like the rest of Saratoga. It was the only blight on a sale whose strength took everyone, even Fasig-Tipton, by surprise. The crowd, animated by the night's events, lingered in Fasig-Tipton's covered bar behind the pavilion, then gradually filtered home through the dark streets. Behind them, humming along on a generator and the electrifying bids of billionaires, the lights still blazed at Fasig-Tipton.