06/15/2006 11:00PM

Sheikh Hamdan uses hands-on approach

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, the owner of Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, has about 1,500 horses in his breeding and racing program. But he still sifts through the sales in search of quality stock to add to his empire each season. That is how he came by Jazil, a $725,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2004.

Bred by the Gumberg family's Skara Glen Stables, Jazil is by Seeking the Gold out of the Grade 1-placed and Grade 2 winner Better Than Honour (by Deputy Minister). The pedigree alone would have attracted attention, but Sheikh Hamdan's team, including the sheikh himself, also liked what they saw in the colt.

"He was a normal-sized colt," Shadwell's United States-based general manager, Rick Nichols, recalled. "You wouldn't have called him small. If anything, he was a little too pretty for a colt, maybe slightly feminine. But he was very correct and had a great walk to him. He's still that way."

And he can run, as it happens. Good conformation and balance are exactly what commercial breeders will be looking for when Jazil joins Kentucky's stallion ranks. To those who think Jazil is small, Nichols offers a lesson he says he learned from the late Maj. Dick Hern, a legendary English trainer.

"He's bigger than he looks," Nichols said of Jazil. "He's 15-3. You stand in to him and you realize how big he is, but when you stand away from him he looks small. Major Hern told me one time that if you look at a horse and he appears smaller than he actually is when you get up next to him, that's a sign that the horse is very well-balanced. I use that when I look at horses at the sales."

Sheikh Hamdan often is directly involved in the selection process, not just in approving the expenditures, according to Nichols.

"He knows what he's looking at when you show him a horse," Nichols said.

He explained that when the sheikh was growing up, the people of the United Arab Emirates still depended on horses.

"Before the oil industry came along, they depended on that horse to get them out of the desert and back home," Nichols said. "He knows what a good horse is. And he's got a terrific memory for pedigrees.

"Our process in selecting yearlings is that myself, farm manager Greg Clarke, assistant manager Jody Dunlap, and Sharon Shepard, another assistant manager, look at the yearlings. [Trainer] Kiaran McLaughlin is also involved, but the rest of us are the most influential, because Kiaran doesn't have as much time to do this, except at Saratoga. At the September sale, we'll look at 500 horses among the four of us. We get that done before the boss gets here, and we make up a short list of horses to show him. He likes to look at about 25 to 30 horses a day, and he selects what he wants to buy from those."

More often than not, those purchases are colts. A number of those are destined for Shadwell's Kentucky stallion division, though there are stud opportunities for them in England, as well. But Jazil, Shadwell's first North American classic winner, appears headed for Kentucky at the conclusion of his racing career.

"Oh, he'll be here," Nichols said with a smile. "There's not much question about that!"

Fasig-Tipton finds smaller is better

The catalog for Fasig-Tipton's July select yearling sale has slimmed down from last year. The 2006 auction, set for July 17-18 at the company's Newtown Paddocks headquarters in Lexington, will include 477 yearlings. That's a reduction of about 30 percent from last year's number and puts the catalog closer in size to the 2004 auction, which cataloged 492 yearlings.

The scaled-down version seems to have worked better in recent years at the July sale. In 2004, the auction saw dramatic upswings across the board as gross reached $38,620,000 (up 37 percent), average price hit $114,260 (up 23 percent), and median went to $80,000 (up 19 percent). But when the company increased the number of young horses on offer in 2005, the auction posted declines in all those categories when compared with the record boom of 2004.

"We thought in evaluating the sale last year that we probably had too many horses that didn't match up physically to where we wanted to be," Fasig-Tipton chief operating officer Boyd Browning said. "So we tightened our belt and eliminated some of the lesser-quality physical horses."

The sale will mark the debut of yearlings by such first-year sires as Aldebaran, Empire Maker, Mineshaft, Sky Mesa, and Vindication.

A couple of firsts for Goffs

The Irish auction house Goffs will hold its first sale in England, and the first 2-year-old sale to be held in Europe on the synthetic all-weather surface Polytrack, on March 9, 2007. Kempton Park, located in Sunbury-on-Thames, is the most recent track in the United Kingdom to install the Polytrack surface for racing.

"The proximity of Kempton Park to London is expected to attract new buyers from the capital," a Goffs announcement issued this week said. "Its use of the acclaimed Polytrack surface will offer overseas buyers the opportunity to view horses breezing at Kempton Park on the same surface."