08/08/2006 11:00PM

Sky Mesa filly tops first day's results

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Hip No. 32 in the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, a filly by Sky Mesa out of Darling My Darling, was bought by Darley for $1.15 million. She was bred by John and Debby Oxley.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Debby Oxley was sitting in her usual seat on Tuesday night at the opening of Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select yearling sale. But she was wearing a different hat, figuratively speaking.

Oxley and her husband, John, who raced 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos and such outstanding fillies as 1999 champion mare Beautiful Pleasure, often move the market as buyers in the $300,000 to $1 million range. But on Tuesday night, Debby Oxley wasn't buying a high-class filly, she was selling one. And it was, frankly, a little anxiety-inducing.

"Selling is much more nerve-wracking than buying or racing," Oxley said as she sat in the pavilion. "You've seen these horses since they were foaled on the farm, and you've made the decision to sell, and you get some indications before they go in the ring of whether there is interest. But what really has to happen is that you have to have at least two people hook up that want your horse. Sometimes that happens, but sometimes it doesn't. You just really never know what's going to happen when they're in that ring."

Oxley had a lot of emotion invested in Hip No. 32. She bred the filly from two of the Oxleys' best-loved runners: their Grade 1 winner and onetime Kentucky Derby hopeful Sky Mesa, and their Grade 1-placed stakes winner Darling My Darling. Sire and dam together had cost the Oxleys $1,050,000 as yearlings, a price their daughter more than paid back in less than 10 minutes on Tuesday night.

The filly, offered by the Gainesway agency, brought $1.15 million and ended up the session topper on a final bid from John Ferguson, the representative for Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley organization.

Minutes later, Sheikh Mohammed's brother, Shadwell Estate Company owner Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, bought the opening session's only other seven-figure lot, a $1 million Distorted Humor-Demi Souer colt consigned by the Lane's End agency.

Those prices were a far cry from the multimillion-dollar bids the Saratoga auction has seen in previous years; last year's sale topper, a Storm Cat-Rings a Chime colt, brought $3.1 million from Coolmore. But the Tuesday session's final figures suggested a healthy market for top-of-the-line yearlings. The two-day auction offers a larger catalog this year - 180 lots as compared to last year's 150 - and the first session's gross rose as expected. By the time the hammer fell on the last horse through the ring, 60 lots had grossed $18,790,000, up 14 percent from last season. Average price dipped 3 percent to $313,167, but median gained 2 percent to reach $255,000.

Importantly, the buyback rate remained level with last year's at 25 percent, indicating that consignors' and buyers' expectations were generally aligned.

Any horse auction is necessarily about business, and Debby Oxley was frank about her reasons for selling Hip No. 32, a large, flashy chestnut filly with four white socks and a wide blaze down her face.

"We do operate a broodmare farm, and we're trying to make it a profitable operation, and you can't keep everything," Oxley said. "When these special ones come along, you have to let go here and there. We're selling more now. We keep some of our horses, but we are trying to be thought of as legitimate breeders and sellers and not just people who only sell horses we don't want."

But the process is also more personal when you are selling something you've bred and raised yourself, Oxley said - especially when it's by your own young stallion, too.

"It's like your child out there on stage," she said. "If it gets rejected - oh!"

But the review, from Ferguson, was an unqualified rave.

"I thought she was a very smart filly," he said after signing the ticket. "And it's a pedigree that can go on both turf and dirt. I thought she was a genuinely outstanding model, a big, strong filly with a great profile, athletic. Sky Mesa's a good-looking horse, and I've seen a number of nice yearlings by him."

Sky Mesa is one of several sires making their long-awaited debuts at the yearling sales this year. He fared exceedingly well, with four yearlings selling for a total of $1,965,000, an average of $491,250.

Nadia Sanan Briggs of Florida-based Padua Stables agrees. Five years ago, she hid in a sound booth in this sale pavilion's balcony to bid discreetly on Vindication for her father, Satish Sanan. She was successful on a final bid of $2.15 million, and the colt went on to win the 2002 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and become that season's juvenile champion. Now Sanan Briggs was back at the auction, this time to sell Vindication's daughter out of Discovering Beauty, by Theatrical. The Taylor Made agency sold the filly for $500,000 to Richard Greeley Jr.

"We're balancing being commercial breeders with breeding to race, and we're also stallion owners, so we're wearing three hats at the same time," Sanan Briggs said. "We're trying to make sure we do the right thing by Vindication and by my dad, who wants to breed successful racehorses, and also be very successful commercial breeders and sellers.

"This is Vindication's first group of yearlings, and we wanted a good representation," she said of the decision to sell Discovering Beauty's filly. "She's from a tremendous family, we own the mare, and we have a sister out of the mare, so we're keeping the family. It was an opportune time to help establish Vindication at the Saratoga sale, because we knew there were a lot of good Vindications that are going to be at the Keeneland September sale."

The Vindication-Discovering Beauty filly was one of two yearlings Padua Stables sent to this auction; the other, a Vindication-Magical Masquerade filly, is a half-sister to The Green Monkey, who sold to Coolmore for a world-record auction price of $16 million at Fasig-Tipton's Calder juvenile sale in February. The Green Monkey's sellers, Randy Hartley and Dean De Renzo, appear to be reinvesting that money. They signed for the Saratoga sale's only Storm Cat, a $900,000 colt out of Miraloma's unraced daughter Gone to the Moon. Paramount Sales, agent, was the consignor.

The auction was to continue with its second and final session Wednesday night at the Humphrey S. Finney Pavilion beginning at 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday's top-priced lots

HIP NO.SEXNAME OR PEDIGREECONSIGNORBUYERPRICE
32FSky Mesa-Darling My DarlingGaineswayAgent John Ferguson$1,150,000
35CDistorted Humor Demi SouerLane's End, AgentShadwell Estate Co Ltd1,000,000
66CStorm Cat-Gone To The MoonParamount Sales, AgentHartley-Derenzo Thoroughbreds900,000
68CTale Of The Cat-Good VibesEaton Sales, AgentDr Dermot O'Byrne625,000
26FPulpit-Copelan's Bid GalTaylor Made Sales Agency, Agent ILive Oak Plantation600,000
82CElusive Quality-Lady AlomaDromoland Farm Inc. Agent IIShadwell Estate Co Ltd575,000
78CGiant's Causeway-Isle Go WestGainesway Agent IArc Bloodstock Inc550,000
36FVindication-Discovering BeautyTaylor Made Sales Agency, Agt. For Padua Stables LLCRichard Greeley Jr.500,000
65FForestry-Gone MusicalTaylor Made Sales Agency, Agent LXXXHoby & Layna Kight425,000
75FVindication-IndigeneWalnut Green, AgentKern Lillingston Assoc 400,000
42CHennessy-Dream ProfitEaton Sales, AgentAisling Duignan, Agent400,000
3FUnbridled's Song-Always ReadyFour Star Sales, AgentC Nouvellet Agt/Marc Keller400,000