Updated on 09/17/2011 6:31PM

Storm Cat colt brings $8 million

This chestnut colt, sired by Storm Cat out of the dam Welcome Surprise, sold for $8 million at the Keeneland September sale on Tuesday. It's the fourth-highest price ever at a Thoroughbred auction.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Coolmore Stud spent much of cutting a swath through Keeneland's select yearling market without much trouble, except for occasional $1 million-plus purchases by other bidders.

But all that changed when a Storm Cat colt sold for $8 million to Japanese interests, shattering the auction record and leading a bullish session that featured 18 millionaire yearlings. Coolmore principal John Magnier, accompanied by agent Demi O'Byrne and Coolmore finance chief Clem Murphy, suddenly found themselves in the unusual position of underbidders.

Keeneland September's previous record was $6.8 million, which Coolmore paid for Tasmanian Tiger, another Storm Cat colt, in 2000.

The buyer of the new record-setter, alas, remained unidentified, as his agent, Japanese champion trainer Hideyuki Mori, refused to identify his client and instructed Keeneland to do the same.

Overall, the session sold 179 yearlings for $87,463,000, a 24 percent increase over last year, for an average of $488,620, a 20 percent rise. The median was $260,000, up from $240,000. Buybacks were a moderate 23 percent.

The Coolmore crowd is generally used to getting its way. At Tuesday's second and final select session of the Keeneland September yearling auction, it had plundered the upper market of such choice lots as a $2 million Danzig-Scads colt offered by Claiborne; a $1.9 million son of their stallion Galileo and Regina Maria, sold by Runnymede, agent; a $1.5 million colt by the late Coolmore sire Danehill out of champion turf mare Fiji, sold by Eaton Sales, agent; and a $1.3 million colt by Coolmore sire Grand Slam out of Sheza Honey, sold by Mike Byrne, agent. It was a good day's work.

But the work suddenly got much harder when Hip No. 426 stepped into the auction ring. That colt, a son of the highly fashionable sire Storm Cat and the stakes-winner Welcome Surprise, brought with him one of the most desirable pedigrees on offer in any auction ring anywhere. The Storm Cat sire line speaks for itself, and those who hadn't heard of Welcome Surprise needed only to look one line farther down the pedigree page to see what the fuss was all about.

Welcome Surprise is a daughter of the Secretariat mare Weekend Surprise, a blue hen by anyone's standards. At the Farish family's Lane's End, she produced 1992 Horse of the Year and successful sire A. P. Indy, Preakness winner Summer Squall, Grade 1-placed Weekend in Seattle, and stakes-placed Honor Grades in a phenomenal career that ended with her death in 2001.

Coolmore, which owns lifetime breeding rights in Storm Cat and is in the business of standing stallions, had plenty of reason to be interested in Hip No. 426, and it bid like it. What Coolmore might not have expected was to be toppled by Mori, who stood only feet away from the Coolmore team in a bidding area behind the auction ring. Mori was bidding with a cell phone to his ear, relaying bids from his unknown client, and he was returning Coolmore's raises so rapidly that he appeared to have no limit at all.

When the price soared past $7 million with no weakening on Mori's end, Magnier had stopped looking for his competition and was instead consulting with Murphy and O'Byrne. Mori's $7.1 million bid produced a frown from the Coolmore boss. This was a bad sign. The battle continued, with Magnier finally bidding $7.8 million. But when Mori countered with $8 million, Magnier's colleagues finally urged caution, there was general head-shaking among the Irishmen, and they beat a retreat from the pavilion as the crowd pressed toward their vanquisher.

Mori was immediately mobbed by the press, who hounded him down the hallway, back to the private rooms where billionaires sometime seek privacy to bid, and out to the bidding arena again when he emerged to bid on a few more horses. But it was all to no avail. Mori would not identify his client, though there was widespread suspicion that it might be Yoshinori Sakae, a new Thoroughbred buyer whom Mori represented at William Inglis's Easter yearling sale this year. Sakae, Australian reports said at the time, is the 38-year-old president of Zomo, a company that reportedly produces golf clubs, as well as having interests in publishing and advertising - although, if he was the buyer, Sakae certainly didn't advertise himself at Keeneland.

For his part, Mori doggedly ran the media gauntlet to buy more horses from behind the auction ring. When the smoke cleared on the session, Mori had also signed for a $3.4 million Storm Cat colt out of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus's full sister, Bless. Taylor Made sold the colt on behalf of ClassicStar. Mori also bought a $1.8 million Seeking the Gold-Angel Fever colt, a three-quarter brother to Fusaichi Pegasus, from Stone Farm's agency.

Even Lane's End owner Will Farish, who also is a Keeneland Association trustee, seemed to be in the dark about who exactly had showered the $8 million on his consignment. But he was in no doubt as to what it meant.

"It's a wonderful thing to see the market expand the way it has," he said. "Particularly for top-quality horses, it's been fantastic. I think it bodes well for the future. Keeneland's fall sale has become the premier yearling sale."

There were other seven-figure horses at Keeneland's Tuesday session, although once Hip No. 426 shattered the sale record so adamantly, their returns looked somewhat wan in comparison. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, still in attendance at the auction and accompanied by his agent John Ferguson, bought a $3.1 million Kingmambo-Zuri colt offered by Dromoland, agent. Maktoum also bought the Four Star agency's $1.05 million Rahy-Crystal Crossing colt, and his brother, Shadwell Stud owner Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum, bought a $2.85 million Kingmambo-Crown of Crimson colt from Lakland, agent.

Leading sellers: Day two

426 Chestnut colt Storm Cat - Welcome Surprise Hideyuki Mori $8,000,000
455 Bay colt Storm Cat - Bless Hideyuki Mori 3,400,000
436 Bay colt Kingmambo - Zuri John Ferguson 3,100,000
489 Bay colt King Mambo-Crown of Crimson Shadwell Estate Co. 2,850,000
373 Bay colt Danzig - Scads D.L. O'Byrne 2,000,000
361 Bay colt Galileo (IRE) - Regina Maria D.L. O'Byrne 1,900,000
477 Bay colt Forestry-Clever Bertie Buzz Chace, agent 1,900,000
442 Bay colt Seeking the Gold - Angel Fever Hideyuki Mori 1,800,000
264 Bay colt Danehill - Fiji (GB) D.L. O'Byrne 1,500,000
384 Bay colt Danzig - Shouldn't Say Never John Ferguson 1,400,000

Richest yearlings at auction
All colts; North America only

1985 Kee July Seattle Dancer $13,100,000
1983 Kee July Snaafi Dancer 10,200,000
1984 Kee July Imperial Falcon 8,250,000
2004 Kee Sept. [unnamed] 8,000,000
1984 Kee July Jareer 7,100,000
1985 Kee July Laa Etaab 7,000,000
2000 Kee Sept. Tasmanian Tiger 6,800,000
1984 Kee July Amjaad 6,500,000
2001 Kee Sept. Van Nistelrooy 6,400,000
2001 Kee Sept. Alajwad 5,500,000