10/05/2009 11:00PM

Tattersalls sale average declines only 2 percent


NEWMARKET, England - England's Tattersalls October yearling sale, Europe's largest yearling auction, bucked recent market trends with a 12 percent jump in gross and only a 2 percent decline in average at its opening day on Tuesday in Newmarket. The returns were aided in large measure by the Maktoum family and Coolmore, who between them took home the lion's share of high-priced horses.

The first three sessions, which comprise the October Book 1 portion of the auction, sold 151 yearlings for about $28,114,380, resulting in an average of about $186,187 and a median of approximately $133,560. The top price was the $918,225 (550,000 guineas) that Coolmore bid for a Galileo colt.

The gross climbed from last year's total for 132 horses. The median was the same as at last year's opener.

This year featured a shorter three-day catalog, and the big international players - Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, his brother Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, and Coolmore Stud helped prevent sharp declines. Together that trio spent the equivalent of $13,848,502 for 50 yearlings. That includes numerous middle- and lower-market purchases by Rabbah Bloodstock, a group of Sheikh Mohammed's friends and associates.

It was Coolmore principal John Magnier who brought the session to a rapid boil with his session-topping bid for the Galileo colt. He is a three-quarter-brother to English champion juvenile filly Damson and by a Coolmore sire. Croom House Stud sold the colt, a son of Tadkiyra, by Darshaan.

Coolmore also spent $667,800 for a three-quarter-sister to European champion juvenile Mastercraftsman. By Coolmore's Holy Roman Emperor, the filly is out of Starlight Dreams, by Black Tie Affair, and also is a half-sister to American Grade 3 winner Genuine Devotion.

Others selling for $550,000 or more Tuesday included a $751,275 Medicean-Tariysha half-brother to recent Group 1 Prix Morny winner Arcano. Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Estate Co. bought that bay son of Tariysha from Corduff Stud. Also above $500,000 were a $584,325 Sadler's Wells-Shastye filly that trainer Jeremy Noseda signed for from Newsells Park Stud, and a Sadler's Wells colt out of U.S. Grade 2 winner Smart 'n Noble that trainer Paul Cole bought for about $550,935 from Ballykilbride Stud.

A sizeable group of trainers were in the middle-market fray.

Some who were hoping for bargains found prices stronger than expected, even in a down market.

"It's down, obviously," trainer Richard Hannon said. "It seems to me that the million-pound horses aren't there anymore. But we tried to go in on number 70 here, but he went too high for us. If I'd had 150,000 guineas, I'd have given it for him. It's all down to what you have in your pocket."

Trainer Mark Johnston, a frequent Keeneland September shopper, was outgunned a few times before buying five for about $457,723. Johnston, who often buys on speculation to resell, said the economy had curtailed his buying plans from about 45 horses a year to just a handful, and those would come from England and Europe.

"I love Keeneland and will always go there," he said. "But the reality is that, for me, the results for the European-bred horses are better. To be blunt, my concerns at the moment are that a huge percentage of the American-breds at Keeneland we looked at in Book 1 and Book 2 had had corrective surgery of one kind or another.

"You have in Kentucky some of the best stud farms in the world with the greatest paddocks in the world. For each horse that had surgery, was that foal in the paddock when it should have been or was it standing in its box recovering from surgery?"

Buyers like Johnston who focused on Britain and Europe this year might have compounded Keeneland's problems, but they were a boon to Tattersalls.

"On the whole, as long as breeders are pricing their horses sensibly and they have good horses, they're getting a fair price for them," Sheikh Mohammed's representative, John Ferguson, said. "Overall, I think most people are satisfied with the market. At the end of the day, it's a buyer's market. There is great value to be had, and people should seriously take note that now is a great time to get into the business."

Newtown Stud owner Sheila Grassick was happy with the $267,120 winning bid Ferguson put on her agency's Cape Cross-Sassenach filly, a consignment on behalf of the Tsui family that bred (and whose son, Christopher, now owns) Sea the Stars. But Grassick also noted, "I think it's peaks and valleys. There are some nice horses who have come in and brought good prices. We're very pleased with that price."

Her daughter, Cathy Grassick, added that, in light of the overall downturn, stud fees probably will fall.

"I think most stallion owners are fairly responsible and realize at this stage that we're all trying to do the best for the industry," she said. "We've got to look out for the future of the industry, and if they keep fees too high, then there's going to be no market for us, and there will be no reason to keep breeders in the game."

The Tattersalls October Book 1 sale was to continue through Thursday in Newmarket.