03/01/2006 1:00AM

Record colt shores up auction's bottom line


MIAMI - Fasig-Tipton's select juvenile auction sold 154 racing prospects at Calder Race Course on Tuesday, but it will go down in history for just one: a $16 million Forestry-Magical Masquerade colt, the most expensive horse sold at public auction.

After a grueling bidding war against Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson, Coolmore Stud agent Demi O'Byrne signed for the record-breaking colt. The colt will be trained by Todd Pletcher, according to O'Byrne.

The Forestry colt's price easily broke the world record set by the yearling Seattle Dancer, who sold for $13.1 million at the 1985 Keeneland July auction, and it beat by $10.8 million the previous juvenile world record of $5.2 million, set at last year's Fasig-Tipton Calder sale by the Tale of the Cat colt Ever Shifting.

Not surprisingly, the Forestry colt lifted the sale's bottom line. The one-day auction sent 154 horses through the auction ring and grossed $62,187,000, a 24 percent increase over last year's total for 147 horses. The average fared almost as well, rising 18 percent to $403,812. But median remained unchanged at $200,000, a fact that indicated the market as a whole was not as frothy as the aberrant $16 million colt might have suggested. If he hadn't been on the result sheet, the sale would have grossed $46,187,000, down from last year's $50,132,000, and averaged $301,876, also a drop from 2005's figures. But the buyback rate dropped significantly this year, decreasing from last season's 44 percent to a more normal 33 percent.

The 2006 auction sold seven horses for $1 million or more, including four for $2 million or more. At the 2005 auction, eight horses topped the $1 million mark.

"It was the deepest, most diverse group of buyers we've ever had at a Calder sale," said Fasig-Tipton's director of marketing, Terence Collier. "We had a great year with our sale graduates, and I think everybody was focused on our sale, for sure. But then we have to make sure they show up."

Consignors Randy Hartley and Dean De Renzo, who sold the record Forestry colt after buying him last year for the relatively small sum of $425,000, clearly had the best day of all. In addition to selling the world-record colt, the team also offered a Storm Cat-Brushed Halory colt reported sold for $2.2 million to an unidentified partnership; a $900,000 Unbridled's Song-Rhum colt that Ferguson bought; a $650,000 Storm Cat-Spring Morning filly purchased by B. Wayne Hughes; and three other horses, for a grand total of $20,350,000.

But other consignors found the market far tougher going.

"Before the sale, I was cautiously optimistic," said Pete Bradley, who pinhooks yearlings to the juvenile sales with partner Nick de Meric. "Now I'm just cautious. Even if you have a horse that has been vetted multiple times and appears to be racing sound, you can still be left holding the bag with little or no action in the sale ring. Either the vets are telling the same story more critically to buyers or buyers are more cautious about what they are willing to live with."

Among the pinhooking casualties was Tom Van Meter, a regular reseller of high-priced yearlings in a partnership that includes consignor Maurice Miller III. The group's first horse in the ring, a Buddha-Danzig Darling colt they bought for $500,000 last year, went unsold this year at the same price. Van Meter was unfazed.

"We'll probably entertain offers," he said. "It's hard to overcome high-priced pinhooks. In general, the way we look at it is that we bought six or eight horses last year. We're not going to make money on every one. If we've got to race them, we'll race them."

But that's a luxury a lot of pinhookers can't afford, and many of them expressed frustration that buyers passed over good horses with flaws that their sellers believed would not compromise racing careers.

"This was the deepest group of 2-year-olds I've ever seen at any 2-year-old sale at any place in any year," said longtime reseller Mike Ryan. "There were a lot of very, very good horses here. But there's so much supply, if people have any issue with a horse, there's another one they can jump on. I don't know what the expectations of buyers are, if they expect them to be pristine on X-rays after prepping for four months and breezing two or three times. I really don't understand it. Suffice to say, it doesn't necessarily mean he isn't a good horse if you don't get him sold. Wild Fit didn't sell last year, Henny Hughes didn't sell last year, but they went on to prove themselves."

But Fasig-Tipton's view was understandably celebratory as the pavilion emptied on Tuesday night.

"The sale was a wonderful success," Collier said. "We're blessed with these consignors who brought such a wonderful group of horses. They know what it takes to sell a good horse here, but we did have to work very hard to get the buyers to respond to that.

"Who would ever have thought a horse would bring $16 million at a 2-year-olds in training sale? It's mind-boggling."

- additional reporting by David Grening