08/07/2002 11:00PM

Storm Cat colt fails to meet $3.9m reserve

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga selected yearling sale picked up steam in its second session , but the night ended anticlimactically when the expected sale-topper failed to sell at $3.8 million.

Hip No. 152, a Storm Cat full brother to Grade 1 winner Forestry and half-brother to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Cash Run, became one of the biggest buy-backs in Thoroughbred auction history when he fell just short of breeder Robert "Shell" Evans's $3.9 million reserve. He also deprived Fasig-Tipton of a financial boost to the sale's bottom line.

In the end, the second of three sessions continued sharp declines that started at Tuesday's opener. On Wednesday, Fasig-Tipton sold 44 yearlings for total receipts of $11,820,000, down 41 percent from last year's second night. The average price sank 33 percent to $268,636, and the median dropped 22 percent to $195,000. Second-day buy-backs rose from 24 percent last year to 31 percent. Despite declines at the top of the market because of general economic concerns and the lack of a home-run horse, the $150,000 to $400,000 range of the sale remained strong.

When Hip No. 152 headed back to his seller's barn unsold, a $1.3 million Storm Cat filly out of champion Sacahuista inherited session-topper status as the session's only other seven-figure lot. John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington, Ky., bought the filly from Eaton Sales, which acted as agent for the Irish-based Coolmore conglomerate. Sikura said he would send the filly to the McKathan brothers' Ocala training center to be broken before going to trainer Josie Carroll at Woodbine.

The night's most expensive colt was Hip No. 141, a $900,000 Honour and Glory colt, out of stakes-placed Ruby Wedding, that Satish Sanan's Padua Stables bought. Taylor Made Sales Agency, which also consigned the $3.8 million buy-back, sold the Honour and Glory colt.

"That's the highest price so far for an Honour and Glory," Taylor Made's Mark Taylor said after the auction.

But that achievement paled in comparison to what might have been, had Evans sold Hip No. 152.

$3.8 million not enough

An elegant chestnut with a narrow blaze, the Storm Cat-Shared Interest colt had all the right credentials to fetch easy millions, even in a stingy market where buyers had been loath to bid seven figures. His full brother Forestry went from a Grade 1-winning career for Aaron Jones to early popularity as a stallion standing at Taylor Made for $50,000. His half-sister Cash Run gave Satish Sanan his first Breeders' Cup win in the 1999 Juvenile Fillies. Both of those horses had sold as million-dollar yearlings, with Forestry bringing $1.5 million and Cash Run bringing $1.2 million at Keeneland July auctions.

That last bit of history played a key role in Evans's decision to stake his reserve at $3.9 million, according to Taylor Made's Duncan Taylor.

"Mr. Evans sold Forestry for $1.5 million, and now that syndicate's getting $5 million a year off of him at stud," Taylor explained. "He sold Cash Run for $1.2 million, and her value now is probably about $5 million. So he figured this one is worth $4 million, and if no one wanted to pay that, he'd keep him and race him. There was a chance the horse would sell."

But at Tuesday night's opening session, it became clear that key upper-tier buyers like Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's agent John Ferguson and Coolmore agent Demi O'Byrne were buying fewer horses than they have in the past; their names never appeared on a ticket Wednesday night.

Neither Ferguson nor O'Byrne appeared overtly interested in Hip No. 152; nor did Sanan, who said he found the colt too light-boned for his taste. Those defections, and buyers' general conservatism in light of current economic uncertainty, reduced the number of probable million-dollar players. By Wednesday, Hip No. 152's sale was beginning to look like it might be a close-run thing, and bloodstock experts around the grounds were beginning to qualify their predictions with the phrase "if he sells."

Consequently, as startling as the buy-back appeared, it was not a shock to most on the sale grounds, including the Taylors. (It also was not, apparently, the largest-ever yearling buy-back. In 1985, Oxford Stable bought back Ajdal for $7.5 million at the Keeneland July sale.)

Bidding opened at $1 million and quickly escalated in $500,000 increments to $3 million. At that point, buying agents J.B. McKathan and Buzz Chace and the reserve were competing against each other. At $3.7 million, Chace - sitting in the center of the upstairs gallery on the telephone to Jones - was the last live man standing. Countered by the reserve at $3.8 million, Chace shook his head.

"Are you sure?" auctioneer Walt Robertson asked.

Chace shook his head again.

"Bad news for me," Robertson said, reluctantly dropping the hammer.

It wasn't all bad news for Fasig-Tipton, which lost the heady publicity of a $3.8 million lot but still made its standard 5 percent commission for auctioning the horse. Back at the Taylor Made barns, the determinedly optimistic Taylor brothers insisted they were happy to help client Evans, even though they would make no commission off the exercise.

"All the right people saw him," said Mark Taylor. "But he was worth more to the breeder than he was to anyone else at this time, given the economy. But Shell Evans has been through having to watch two of this mare's offspring win Grade 1 races and enhance their residual value, and he wants to experience that with this horse. We think he has a big shot to do that."

Lukas loses out

Bidding on the official sale-topper, Sikura's $1.3 million Storm Cat-Sacahuista filly, was overshadowed by the non-sale of Hip No. 152, but it also provided some drama.

Sikura cast the first bid at $1 million, and it took just four more bids to take the price to Sikura's winning offer of $1.3 million. The underbidder was D. Wayne Lukas, who declined to reveal who his client was. But he made his disappointment plain when he stepped out of the bidding to give Sikura the filly. He looked pained and pursed his lips as he shook off the auctioneer's offer to raise, then said loudly, "She's worth it," as the hammer fell for Sikura.

"I'm getting beaten up here," Lukas said afterward. "I wanted the Honour and Glory colt very badly, too. But you have to make a judgment call."

The man who got the $900,000 Honour and Glory colt, Satish Sanan, wasn't so sure that judgment applied past a certain point in the bidding. "The price was much higher than we thought he'd bring," Sanan said, "because Bob Lewis was bidding on the phone against us. When two people hook up, there is no logic, you know. It's love. It's ego. I don't know why, but you just get stupid."