03/04/2009 12:00AM

Sheikh Mohammed spends $4.6M at Fasig-Tipton


MIAMI - It almost looked like old times Tuesday at Fasig-Tipton's select auction at Calder Race Course. There was Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's representative John Ferguson, shelling out million-dollar figures for glossy 2-year-olds. By day's end, Ferguson had spent $4,635,000 for four horses, including the sale-topping $1.6 million Medaglia d'Oro-Bayou Plans colt, a $1.1 million Unbridled's Song-Amazing Buy colt, and a $1 million Unbridled's Song-Rubywood colt.

But times are different now, as evidenced by the stock market's 50 percent decline since 2008's Calder sale. Maktoum's purchases were the session's only seven-figure horses on a day that was scarred by a 32 percent decline in average and a 35 percent drop in median price.

Ciaran Dunne's Wavertree Stable, agent, sold the sale-topping Medaglia d'Oro colt, a half-brother to Midas Eyes and Bayou's Lassie. Leprechaun Racing, agent, sold the son of Amazing Buy, the first foal for his dam. David Scanlon, agent, sold the son of Rubywood, who is from the family of Tapit and Rubiano.

The single session sold 111 horses for $26,151,000 down 25 percent from last year's gross for 102 horses. Average price fell from $344,118 to $235,595, and median plummeted from $230,000 to $150,000. Buy-backs fell from 40 percent to 35 percent, but that total was mitigated by a high number of outs.

For many consignors, the auction was a struggle. Dunne said his only two sales, including the Medaglia d'Oro colt, were horses he sold on behalf of their breeders. He did not sell any of the 10 others he cataloged, horses he had bought himself as yearling resale prospects. Those were either scratched from the auction or failed to meet their reserves. They will either go racing for Dunne or head to future auctions.

"The market is not unexpected," Dunne said. "It's all or nothing, and obviously there's more nothing than all."

Numerous buyers, including some traditional market stalwarts, were on hand. Foremost among those was Maktoum's representative, Ferguson, who fended off challenges from Jess Jackson's agent John Moynihan, Padua Stables principal Satish Sanan, and Kaleem Shah, among others, throughout the day. Those underbidders, many of whom also signed for high six-figure horses, gave an indication that the select juvenile market's top buyers will still play, but often with a smaller budget.

Other horses selling for $600,000 or more included Hip No. 93, a $725,000 Indian Charlie-Bally Storm colt that Shah purchased from Hoby and Layna Kight, agent; Hip No. 95, a $700,000 Unbridled's Song-Be Gentle filly that Alltel chief executive Scott Ford's Westrock Stables bought from Maurice Miller, agent; Hip No. 181, a $625,000 Distorted Humor-Ile de France colt that Jess Jackson purchased from Kirkwood Stables, agent; Hip No. 227, a $625,000 Friends Lake-Miss Cox's Hat colt that Padua Stables and Zayat Stables bought from Leprechaun; and Hip No. 65, Wavertree's $600,000 Giant's Causeway-Yard Art filly that Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm (Davant Latham, agent) bought.

Fasig-Tipton worked to recruit buyers to the auction, then stepped up efforts to make them comfortable with a new hard-floored tent in the barn area. The large tent included a video room, business center, and dining room and a central "garden patio" that turned out to be the warmest place on the sale grounds when Tuesday dawned with a stiff breeze and temperatures in the high 40s. The hospitality tent was a beau geste but didn't block the other chilling wind - bad economic news.

As bidders finished breakfast Tuesday in the tent, flat-screen televisions tuned to CNN flashed dire headlines like "Mortgage delinquencies surge" and "Dow lowest since '97."

But for owners still wealthy and game enough for racing action, horse sale downturns, like those on the stock market, can present a buying opportunity. For others, like Thoroughbred Futures, it was a chance to get in the sport.

Thoroughbred Futures founders Andrew Cary and Adam Corndorf sported broad grins as they signed for the syndicate's first auction purchase, a $300,000 Speightstown filly offered by Leprechaun Racing. She is a half-sister to a stakes-placed runner in Unbridled's Heart, and Cary and Corndorf felt they got, if not a steal, as good a deal as possible.

"We probably wouldn't have been able to afford a filly like that last year," Cary said. "With the way the market is now, we're very fortunate."

Thoroughbred Futures' good fortune was consignor Mulligan's loss: He had paid $305,000 for the dark bay filly at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale. But Leprechaun Racing came back to hit a home run on the $1.1 million Unbridled's Song colt, a $275,000 purchase at Fasig-Tipton's 2008 Saratoga yearling sale.

"Everyone knows very well the situation around the world," buyer John Ferguson said after signing the ticket. "But there are still Breeders' Cups to win. Good horses still have value."

"Actually, it's going better than we had a right to hope for, given the current circumstances," said consignor Nick de Meric. He credited Fasig-Tipton's energetic efforts to bring bidders in. "Without question, the sale is better than it would have been without that. Everybody's being circumspect about their spending habits, but they do seem like they're here to buy. We still have a market, but we have to adjust."