07/18/2006 11:00PM

Season opener bodes well

A Forestry-Alizea's Son colt brought top price at a sale that saw both resellers and racing stables spend freely.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fasig-Tipton's July select yearling sale got the yearling auction season off to a good start. The two-day sale featured a slimmer catalog this year with just 472 lots, as compared with last year's record 672, and that formula worked well for the company.

By the time the hammer fell for the last time Tuesday evening, the auction had set sale records for average price at $115,954 and median price at $90,000. The gross, predictably, had gone down because of the decreased number of offerings and finally finished at $35,598,000 for 307 yearlings.

Fasig-Tipton's president, Walt Robertson, called the sale "great," and it may bode well for the next yearling auction on the calendar, Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga sale on Aug. 8-9. One positive sign: Both yearling-to-juvenile resellers and traditional end-user racehorse owners were active bidders throughout the market.

Pinhookers generally enjoyed a prosperous year at the spring's 2-year-old sales in a season that generated a $16 million world-record price for The Green Monkey. Though some had complained that the juvenile market had been thick at the top but spotty elsewhere, resellers were not afraid to bid at the July sale to restock their shelves. And not all of the resellers were American-based. Con Marnane of Ireland picked up a $40,000 Proud Citizen-Cognac Gal colt from Taylor Made, agent, and a $40,000 Broken Vow-Boundless Bliss colt from Hopewell, agent. American pinhookers whose names were on the buyers' lists included Mike Ryan, Sequel Bloodstock, Excel Bloodstock, and Gulf Coast Racing, Maurice Miller, Nick De Meric, and Leprechaun Racing, buying at ranges from $40,000 to $300,000.

The strong pinhooker activity was likely helped by Fasig-Tipton's commitment this year to tighten up physical criteria for its July catalog. Among end-users, big guns like Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley and prolific buyers like Egyptian beverage magnate Ahmed Zayat were also on the results sheet. Darley took home the sale's top lot, a $1.2 million Forestry-Alizea's Song colt offered by Taylor Made, agent. In his own name, Zayat bought eight horses for a total of $2.16 million. Jack and Laurie Wolf's Starlight Stables also made multiple purchases, buying five yearlings for $1,075,000, all at the Tuesday session.

Asked after the sale whether "less is more" in terms of the July catalogs numbers, Fasig-Tipton's chief operating officer, Boyd Browning, answered, "Better is more."

A hands-on family touch

Nursery Place, a 475-acre farm south of Lexington in the heart of the area's hunt country, sold the second session's top lot, a $760,000 Pulpit-Mayhavebeentheone colt. For farm owner John Mayer, who sold the colt in partnership with Bob Manfuso, it was a real hands-on experience. Before the colt sold Tuesday, Mayer was the man on the shank showing him to interested parties. In fact, Mayer was on the shank the whole time the colt was at Nursery Place getting ready for the sale. Nursery Place has a staff of 14 - including Mayer's sons Griffin, 18, and Walker, 15 - that Mayer called "a great group." But that doesn't stop Mayer from working with the horses, too.

"He's a nice, steady colt," said Mayer, 48, said of the Pulpit colt. "In the last month, he went out every morning and walked 2 1/2 miles around the place. He gets into his work and likes what he does."

"He's a lot like dad," quipped Griffin Mayer, "in the sense that he's a hard-knocking old man."

White sale a tough call

A horse of a different color isn't easy to appraise at auction, it seems. Hip No. 41, an unusual white filly sired by Trust N Luck, presented that quandary for consignor Darby Dan Farm. Darby Dan sold her on behalf of breeders Mike and Nancy Mazzoni.

Wayne Sweezey, a managing partner in Darby Dan, said the filly presented the most difficult appraisal he has ever had to make.

The filly is one of only 40 white Thoroughbreds registered with The Jockey Club since 1896. In a business that is notoriously conservative, bloodstock agents predicted, some buyers might value the rare, splashy color, but many likely wouldn't. Doubters could view her as a genetic oddity that would be an especially unknown quantity on the racetrack. After consulting with almost everyone he knows, Sweezey said, "we felt like she could sell for anything from $40,000 to $80,000, depending a lot on how people felt about her color. She is a well-conformed filly."

In the end, Naveed Chowhan bought the striking white filly with chestnut ears for $40,000. Chowhan, who bid by phone for the filly, knows well that some very nice things come in inexpensive packages, He was the breeder of Grade 1 winner Awesome Humor, who sold at this sale in 2001 for $45,000.