03/07/2007 1:00AM

Surprise: $2.5M colt back to Coolmore

Joseph DiOrio/Horsephotos
Hip No. 71, a colt by Storm Cat, sold for $2.5 million at Fasig-Tipton?s Calder 2-year-old sale on Tuesday. The buyer was Coolmore Stud, who bred the colt but sold him as a yearling for $1 million.

MIAMI - When Hoby Kight and Don Mattox bought a $1 million Storm Cat colt at last year's Keeneland September yearling sale, they gambled that the colt would turn a profit for them just seven months later at Fasig-Tipton's Calder 2-year-old sale.

"I have to admit it took me a little while of looking at the ceiling before I could get to sleep," Mattox recalled on Tuesday, "and Hoby told me he didn't get a wink."

The gamble paid off Tuesday at Calder, when Coolmore Stud representative Demi O'Byrne bid a sale-leading $2.5 million for the colt, who sold as Hip No. 71 and is out of the Group 3-placed Mr. Prospector mare Moon Safari. O'Byrne signed the ticket on behalf of Coolmore chief John Magnier and partners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith.

Interestingly, Coolmore bred the colt in the name of Eagle Holdings and was the outfit that sold him at the Keeneland September sale through the Lane's End agency.

"I don't know whether I made a mistake today or the last time," O'Byrne quipped after signing the ticket.

The one-day auction sold 124 horses for $43,622,000, down from last year’s gross of $62,187,000 for 154 horses, and the average price fell from $403,812 to $351,790. The median price in 2007 was $250,000, up from $200,000 last year. But the buyback rate at the 2007 auction was about 40 percent, well up from last season’s 33 percent.

Gross and average at the 2006 auction had been boosted sharply by the sale of a $16 million colt, now named The Green Monkey, who is the highest-priced horse ever sold at auction.

One man who did not bid on Tuesday's $2.5 million colt was John Ferguson. Ferguson represents Coolmore's rival, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum of Darley, who made it known in 2005 that he would not bid on horses by Coolmore stallions. Since then, Maktoum and Magnier have engaged in some heated bidding duels, most notably over The Green Monkey here last year, leading to widespread speculation that the two are feuding. When Ferguson didn't bid on Hip No. 71, Kight and Mattox took it to mean that Coolmore's status as the colt's breeder had put Darley off.

Ferguson said only, "The horse wasn't on our list."

"That's a shame," said Mattox, "because if he goes on and does what Hoby thinks he's going to do, a Storm Cat colt out of a Mr. Prospector mare, if he can run a mile or better, what are his stud prospects? Unlimited."

The $2.5 million Storm Cat colt was the one-day sale's high point as of 6 p.m. Other seven-figure lots by that hour included $1.45 million Hip No. 263, a Mr. Greeley-Dancing Naturally colt that Ferguson bought from Ciaran Dunne's Wavertree agency, and five other horses that sold for an even $1 million.

Those were: Hip No. 20, a Street Cry-Holiday Runner filly that Ferguson bought from John D. Stephens; Hip No. 176, a Forestry-Unbridled Spirit colt that Ferguson purchased from Four Roses Thoroughbreds; Hip No. 211, a Vindication-Apelia filly that Hill 'n' Dale Bloodstock bought from Eddie Woods, agent; Hip No. 235, a Vindication-Charm a Gendarme colt that Reynolds Bell, agent, bought from Scanlon Training Center, agent; and Hip No. 247, a Hennessy-Double Park colt purchased by Buzz Chace, agent.

In the auction's waning hours, it appeared unlikely to continue the Calder sale's recent streak of world records. The 2006 auction produced the current world-record price for a Thoroughbred at auction when Coolmore purchased The Green Monkey for $16 million. In 2005 and 2004, the sale set juvenile records of $5.2 million for Ever Shifting and $4.5 million for Fusaichi Samurai. At the 2007 edition, the upper market was more conservative than in recent years, a fact that sobered consignors.

"It's a tricky marketplace," said Nick De Meric, another experienced yearling-to-juvenile pinhooker. "If your horses jump through all the hoops and get everything right, there can be tremendous rewards. But even then, it's not a no-brainer that you'll get those rewards."

Kight and Mattox had calculated that the best insurance for a big return at Calder was to bring the best-conformed and most fashionably bred horses they could afford, even if it meant paying seven figures at a yearling sale. In a 2-year-old market that is notoriously thin on middle-market buyers, they reasoned, it was better to try to make a home run score in the upper market, where the biggest spenders were likely to converge on a single attractive horse.

At the Keeneland September sale, they found two Storm Cat colts they liked and felt they could afford to buy, if they brought in partners.

"We didn't know which one to buy," said Mattox, 62. "So we sat down the night before they sold and decided to try to buy both, and we started making calls to raise the money."

Kight and Mattox put together a partnership that included Kight and his wife, Layna; Mattox and his wife, Pam; and Norman Adams and Drew Raymon. They got the son of Moon Safari for $1 million and the other, a son of French Group 1 winner Luna Wells, for $500,000. The Luna Wells colt failed to reach his reserve at the Calder sale on a final $675,000 bid, but Mattox said the partnership was able to sell him privately shortly after he left the sale ring.

But Moon Safari's son did exactly what the partnership hoped: he hit a home run.

"Hoby said right off the bat when he started breaking this colt that he wasn't a good horse, he was a great horse," Mattox said. "His mind was good. He never had any problems, and he wanted to run all day. We were lucky that he progressed right on through the sale here."

"He was probably going through a phase," winning bidder O'Byrne said of Coolmore's initial decision to sell the colt as a yearling. "I couldn't be happier to have him today."