07/19/2004 11:00PM

Sheikh Mohammed buys $950K Elusive Quality colt


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's bellwether July yearling sale continued its strong showing Tuesday in its second and final session, thanks to an international array of buyers. A potent mix of regular players, new money, and profit-laden pinhookers pushed the auction to gains in all categories and raised optimism for the rest of the yearling auction season.

The top-priced lot was a $950,000 Elusive Quality colt that Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum bought from Gerry Dilger's Dromoland Farm.

The two-day sale sold 338 horses for $38,620,000, up 37 percent from last year. Average climbed 23 percent to $114,260, and median was up 19 percent to $80,000. Buybacks fell from 29 percent to 25 percent.

Maktoum's agent, John Ferguson, is a familiar and welcome face at any Thoroughbred auction, and he was a boon to consignor Dilger. Dilger and a partner purchased the colt's dam, Cercida, from last year's Keeneland January sale for $135,000. Cercida was carrying the Elusive Quality colt at the time, and Dilger, who attended when the foal was born, knew he had a good thing when he saw what he called "a big, strong, good-looking foal."

The colt's stock went up even more when another Elusive Quality colt, Smarty Jones, won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and went on to be syndicated for a total value of $39 million. It didn't hurt that Maktoum owns Elusive Quality. The result was a highly profitable Tuesday for consignor Dilger and Co.

Dilger pronounced himself "very, very excited for everybody, for the farm" but declined to name his partner in the sale.

One of the new buyers was Alexander Garese, who bought the session's second most expensive lot, an $825,000 Cozzene colt. If you can't place the buyer's name, don't worry. Even his agent has never met him. Garese, according to Lane's End representative John Gasper, is a first-time Thoroughbred buyer from the Ukraine. Gasper signed for the Cozzene-Avie's Fancy colt, who is a half-brother to Grade 2 winner St Averil. Gasper said he made contact with Garese, a banker from Kiev, after Garese e-mailed Lane's End and expressed an interest in buying horses to race in Europe.

"He can't speak English," Gasper said, "so I talk to him through an interpreter." During the bidding, Garese apparently relayed his bids through the interpreter to Gasper.

"It's quite an ordeal to reach him by phone," Gasper said, explaining that Ukrainian land lines don't seem very reliable.

Gasper said the colt will go to Miacomet Farm near Lexington until the end of August, during which time Garese will hire a European trainer.

"This was our number-one colt in the sale," Gasper said, adding that the Cozzene colt had exceptionally clean X-ray and endoscopic exams. "He looks like he's made out of hickory instead of bone."

Gunsmith Stables sold the colt through the agency of Joe Dodgen's Seven Fold Farm.

The third most expensive horse was an $800,000 Fusaichi Pegasus colt that Demi O'Byrne, agent, bought from the Paramount Sales agency. O'Byrne represented his usual clients, Michael Tabor and John Magnier, and won the colt after dueling with Sunland Park owner Stan Fulton. Magnier owns Coolmore Stud, which stands Fusaichi Pegasus. The colt is out of the stakes-placed Vice Regent mare Regent's Walk, making him a three-quarter-brother to $2.8 million earner and sire Marquetry and Group 2 winner Spain Lane, and a half-brother to Regie V., the dam of Grade 2 winner Five Star Day.

Tuesday's selling followed sharp gains at Monday's opener, which saw median soar 31 percent to $80,000 while average price rose 7 percent to $99,077.

"We just made a tremendous effort to get the word out that this was a good group of horses," said Bill Graves, Fasig-Tipton's yearling sales director. "We made lots of phone calls and lots of road trips."

The buyers that attended the two-day auction were a varied group, and that was good news for Fasig-Tipton. In addition to regular attendees such as Ferguson and O'Byrne, the upper market drew new money in the form of John Connelly and Jeffrey and Francesca Cooper, who bought horses for $450,000 and $470,000, respectively.

"We've been lucky here," said Ferguson, who has attended the sale on Maktoum's behalf for the last five years. "This is a very solid group of yearlings, well picked. It's always been a sale where conformation was more important than pedigree."

That was a key consideration for yearling-to-juvenile resellers - pinhookers - who were a major force in the $25,000 to $150,000 range after a booming 2-year-old auction season earlier this spring. The strong market made it hard for pinhookers to find bargains, but it wasn't impossible, said Florida-based reseller Eddie Woods.

"It's the usual rule: They're good horses, so they're bringing good money," Woods said. "But we've hit a couple of spots where we thought we would have to give more than we did. Thirty-three to 40 percent of the horses here are really good horses, and that actually makes it easier, because they can't all bring top dollar."