09/11/2008 12:00AM

Select-session average drops 12%

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Photos By Z/Keeneland
Hip No. 318, an A.P. Indy colt, sold for $1.5 million to top Day 2 at the Keeneland yearling sale on Tuesday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Maktoum name continued to dominate sale results at Keeneland on Tuesday, but it was Sheikh Hamdan, not his brother Sheikh Mohammed, who picked up the session-topping colt for $1.5 million at the second and final select session.

The session-topper was by A.P. Indy, who also led Monday's selling with a $3.1 million filly out of Chimichurri that Sheikh Mohammed purchased. Greg Goodman's Mt. Brilliant Farm sold Tuesday's top colt, son of Taegu and a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Classic Elegance.

That brought Sheikh Hamdan's two-day total to 16 yearlings for $9,070,000, while Sheikh Mohammed bought 19 for $15,655,000. The brothers were a weighty presence in a select market that saw double-digit declines in gross and average and an increase in buybacks.

The Tuesday session ended with 146 yearlings sold and an aggregate of $57,310,000. That was a sharp drop of 27 percent from last year's total for 166. Tuesday's average price of $392,534 was down 16 percent, and median fell 10 percent, from $332,500 to $300,000. Buybacks climbed from 25 percent in 2007 to 32 percent.

Together, the 2008 select sessions sold 300 yearlings for $113,357,000, down 22 percent from last year, when 337 horses sold. The cumulative average dove 12 percent, from $431,386 to $377,857. But median was a bright spot, remaining the same from 2007 to 2008 at $300,000. But buybacks rose from 24 percent to 31 percent.

North American-based buyers were highly active Tuesday, with the new Legends Racing partnership at the forefront. The syndication group headed by Kentucky horsemen Olin Gentry and Thomas Gaines, and investment banker Tripp Hardy has so far declined to comment on the details of its structure or who its investors are. But it purchased four yearlings for $1 million or more, the most expensive of which was a $1.2 million Storm Cat half-brother to 2001 Horse of the Year Point Given consigned by Taylor Made, agent. The horses are slated to go into training with Legends trainers Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert, and Nick Zito.

Twelve yearlings sold for $1 million or more Tuesday, bringing the select sessions' total to 17. Last year, 30 select yearlings sold for seven figures, a sign that even boutique sellers were having to adjust their home-run hopes downward.

Buyers' bullishness tailed off late in the day, but Tuesday's session started off strongly, with three of the first 10 horses selling for $700,000 or more. Their buyers, all different and all domestic, showed why the upper market is still enjoying relative good health despite general economic downturns. Roy and Gretchen Jackson's Lael Stable, represented by the Nicoma bloodstock agency, bought Hip No. 254, a Pulpit-Owsley filly, for $800,000 from Stone Farm; Betty Moran's famed Brushwood Stable purchased Hip No. 262, an Empire Maker-Potrinner filly, for $950,000 from Mill Ridge, agent; and Dorothy Matz and Ramona Bass took Hip No. 263, an A. P. Indy-Private Status filly, from Lane's End, agent, for $700,000.

The prices were not cheap, but buyers seeking high-quality fillies to race before adding to their broodmare bands did find opportunities to buy. That was something many could rarely do in years when Maktoum and Coolmore battled ruthlessly for the best stock, driving prices past $5 million where few others could hope to compete.

Those head-to-head battles dropped sharply at last year's Keeneland September auction after Maktoum let it be known he would no longer bid on horses by Coolmore sires. The duels seemed off again this season. Unlike the Maktoums, Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne bid sparingly, buying just five yearlings for $2,865,000 at the two select sessions. Even without Coolmore as underbidder, Maktoum was a nearly unbeatable competitor.

"Yesterday, we saw a filly we liked, but Sheikh Mohammed liked her, too," said Dorothy Matz, purchaser of Tuesday's $700,000 A.P. Indy-Private Status filly. "Obviously, we didn't win that battle. I think some are selling very strongly, but I thought we got a very good price on the filly we bought."

Good buys for bidders often meant a hard time for sellers, but there were home-run stories.

The connections of Hip No. 332, a filly by the popular sire Mr. Greeley out of Two Halos, had an impromptu celebration behind the bidding arena when she brought $400,000 from Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.

It wasn't a session-topping price, but seller Ann McBrayer, her farm manager Charlie McKinlay, and consigning agent Case Clay of Three Chimneys Farm swapped high-fives, hugs, and cheers for good reason. The filly's price had more than paid for her dam and given a speedy profit to McBrayer, whose Keene Ridge Farm paid $260,000 for Two Halos, a Saint Ballado mare, at Keeneland's 2006 November sale. She was carrying the filly.

"It's a little bit sticky in there," consignor Clay said. "We were kind of thinking that anything between $300,000 and $400,000 would be great, and $400,000 is just wonderful."

Two Halos was a gamble for Keene Ridge, said farm manager Charlie McKinlay, who offered a glimpse into commercial breeders' long-term calculations.

"We have specific criteria we stick to, and she was just a hair below it because she was unraced," he said of Two Halos. "But we liked her pedigree below that and the way she was built. She looked like she was made to be a mama. We had tried to buy a few others before her but couldn't, so we decided, well, let's go for this.

"At this sale, we figured $350,000 would cover the mare for three years and her first three foals, so we were hoping for that. At the beginning of the year, we thought we might get $500,000 for this filly, but we had to adjust our expectations. Our reserve was only $299,000, so $300,000 was just great, and anything above that was just butter."

Keene Ridge, a 12-mare operation, saw both the ups and the downs of the Keeneland September select market Tuesday. After the Mr. Greeley filly's success, the farm bought back its Ghostzapper half-sister to champion grass horse English Channel for $470,000.

"In general, I think it's a good, solid market," said Shadwell Farm manager Rick Nichols, who signed on Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum's behalf for the $1.5 million A.P. Indy colt. "I didn't know how the market would be, given the state of our economy. I'm sure a lot of people are worried about their investments and wondering how much money they're going to be able spend. It's a buyer's market, and we are pleasantly surprised."

The Keeneland September auction runs through Sept. 23, with a dark day Sept. 12. Sessions begin daily at 10 a.m. in the Keeneland sale pavilion.