07/18/2001 11:00PM

Select sale rewards longtime breeders

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A couple of familiar faces in central Kentucky's commercial Thoroughbred breeding community had major successes at the Keeneland July selected yearling sale, which ended Tuesday night.

Harriet Jones, the widow of the late legendary breeder Warner Jones Jr., and Catesby Clay's Runnymede Farm stirred memories for local horsemen when they sold yearlings for $3.6 million and $1.65 million, respectively.

Jones was inundated by well-wishers after John Ferguson bought her $3.6 million colt by Mr. Prospector out of Nuryette, a half-brother to stakes winners Tap to Music, Northern Afleet, and Boss Soss.

"Robert Clay [whose Three Chimneys Farm consigned Jones's colt] kept telling me this colt would go for $1 million or more," said Jones, "but when the bidding lagged briefly at $600,000 or $700,000, I thought, 'Oh, dear.'"

The big price made many recall an even bigger sale the Jones family pulled off in 1985, when Jones's husband consigned Seattle Dancer to the July yearling sale. The British Bloodstock Agency's English division paid $13.1 million for the colt, a world record that still stands.

Jones, who sold Hermitage Farm to Carl Pollard after her husband's death, still keeps her mares with Pollard under the care of manager Bill Landes, who also was her husband's longtime manager. She said she still has four mares, including Personal Colors, a full sister to Personal Ensign, but Nuryette, sadly, died. She generally sells one foal a year.

The $3.6 million colt was the product of a lucky decision. Jones almost sold her season to Mr. Prospector, but decided to breed Nuryette on it instead. "She had been barren the previous year, and she was ready to breed early in 2000," she explained.

The result was a handsome chestnut colt, one of the last Mr. Prospectors on offer.

"I think he would have been thrilled with this," she said of her late husband.

Clay, whose family has operated Runnymede Farm near Cynthiana, Ky., since the 1870's, sent Hip No. 43 through the ring at Monday's opening session. Bidding for the filly, a daughter of Pulpit and Chancey Squaw (by Chief's Crown), promptly flew past $1 million and kept on going as Demi O'Byrne, the ubiquitous agent for Michael Tabor and John Magnier's partnership, fought off challenges from Ferguson, representing Sheikh Mohammed. O'Byrne, the dominant buyer that night, won on a $1.65 million bid, putting the softspoken Clay in the spotlight.

Clay, who watched the proceedings from near the back walking ring, said he celebrated the sale with a single glass of red wine.

"We feel she's one of the best we've ever sold," Clay said of the filly, who brought the highest price ever for a Runnymede horse. "We once sold a mare for $1.1 million and a yearling for nearly $1 million. You know, you aspire to reach heaven and the stars, and she was a wonderful filly to do it.

"We've been at this for quite some time," he added. "Some years, we've laid fallow. But we constantly strive to build up a good band of broodmares."

Runnymede, covering 365 acres, is home to about 35 mares, including the $1.65 million filly's dam. Some of the mares are owned in partnership and others belong to Clay.

Etc. . .

* Keeneland has revised the median for its two-day July selected yearling sale. The correct median is $427,500, up 7 percent from last year's median of $400,000, not $473,000.

* Keeneland's marathon September yearling auction will catalog 4,483 lots, down from last year's record catalog of 4,683. The 2001 sale will cover 13 days, starting Sept. 10, and fills seven catalog books. Last year's sale yielded a record gross of $291,827,100 and record average of $88,085.

* Keeneland has named Lexington-based auctioneer Ryan Mahan its senior auctioneeer. Mahan will head the Keeneland team, which also includes veteran auctioneers Scott and Cris Caldwell, whose father, Tom, was a famous auctioneer and Keeneland's director of auctions for many years. Mahan first joined Keeneland as a bid-spotter in 1977.

* The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's five-day August yearling sale, which begins Aug. 20 in Ocala, Fla., has cataloged 1,364 yearlings. Of those, 208 are selected yearlings. Catalogs are available online at www.obssales.com. All sales sessions are continuous and begin at 10:30 a.m. Eastern.