08/07/2007 12:00AM

Taylor, Jones team on sale session-topper


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It was almost 30 years ago that Frank Taylor, then 17, boldly approached Thoroughbred owner Aaron Jones at a horse auction and asked for his business.

"I just went up, introduced myself, and said, 'We're starting a horse farm, and if you ever want to send us any horses we'd be happy to have them,'" recalled Taylor, now 44 and a principal in Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky. "About a year went by and we didn't hear anything, and then one day he called out of the blue and said he wanted to send his horses."

It has been an enduring and profitable union, as illustrated Monday night at Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select yearling sale, where a Jones-bred and Taylor Made-raised colt topped the opening session at $1.05 million. The colt, sold as hip No. 86 through the Taylor Made agency, is a chestnut son of Taylor Made stallion Unbridled's Song and the champion mare Riboletta, whom Jones campaigned with his wife, Marie; the Joneses also own shares in Unbridled's Song.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, represented by his bloodstock advisor John Ferguson, was the buyer.

Hip No. 86 was the only yearling to sell for $1 million or more on Monday. Upper-level buyers were in attendance and bidding, but most appeared unwilling to advance past their own appraisal of the horses on offer. That created a market that many sellers considered fair if not overly generous, though it did deprive spectators drawn by the prospect of dramatic, multi-million-dollar bidding duels.

When the final hammer fell late Monday night, the session had sold 76 yearlings for $19,867,000, a healthy six-percent increase over last year, when a smaller catalog sold 60 for $18,790,000. But average and median dropped sharply. Average fell 17 percent, from $313,167 to $261,408 while median slid 19 percent, from $255,000 last year to $207,500.

Consignors took those precipitous slides philosophically, pointing out that a horse sold one bid past his reserve is still a horse sold. In fact, the buyback figure improved, dropping from 25 percent in last year's more buoyant market to 21 percent this season.

"In the past year, it's been softer at the top," Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson said after the session. "The bottom line is that pretty much the same players who have been driving the market and who drove it last year were here this year: B. Wayne Hughes, Charlotte Weber, the Arabs; you know, they're all here and they all participated. I don't think there's any unsoundness in the market. I'd like to see more players at the top, but I'd have said that last year."

The key player at the top was Maktoum. He was not in attendance but made his presence known through Ferguson, purchasing five colts for $3,675,000. His other buys were hip No. 30, an $800,000 Distorted Humor-Just a Bird colt sold by Derry Meeting Farm, agent; hip No. 38, an $800,000 Vindication-Life's a Dance colt consigned by Taylor Made, agent; hip No. 79, a $750,000 A. P. Indy-Private Opinion colt offered by Eaton Sales, agent; and hip No. 31, a $275,000 Songandaprayer-Kipper Quila colt from Gainesway, agent.

Hughes, one of Ferguson's rivals for the session-topping Unbridled's Song colt, walked away with the night's second most expensive yearling, an $875,000 Distorted Humor-Queen of Money colt. Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services consigned the colt for Comair co-founder David Mueller. The chestnut is a half-brother to Grade 3-placed stakes-winner Quiet Cash and to stakes-winner Pocketfullofpesos. The bidding came down to Hughes and Lane's End owner Will Farish, but Farish finally relented, mouthing "No" to his bid-spotter.

"Every now and then you have to pull up," Farish said with a smile as he exited the pavilion.

Farish, who did land a $700,000 Unbridled's Song-Mycatcandance colt from the Dromoland agency earlier in the evening, could have been speaking for a number of traditional high-rollers at the Saratoga auction.

There were some surprisingly low prices. A daughter of Giant's Causeway and champion Jewel Princess, faulted by some bidders for her conformation, sold to Liberation Farm for just $100,000, a startling price in light of her stellar pedigree. A Vindication half-brother to Gradeo1 winner Yonaguska and three other stakes performers was listed as sold to Reynolds Bell, agent, for $325,000. And a Not for Love half-brother to Grade 1 winner Happy Ticket went to Northshore Bloodstock for $140,000.

But the brothers who operate Taylor Made didn't fret too much about hip No. 86.

"He's like the best that Unbridled's Song can produce," Mark Taylor said. "He's got the leg of Unbridled's Song, he's got balance, he's very correct and athletic. From the day he was born, he's been one of the top two or three foals on the farm, which is a very sizeable group with deep pedigrees."

The colt had been the subject of admiring gazes since spring, when Maktoum's team first spotted him on the farm and Fasig-Tipton began wooing the Joneses - "crawled on their hands and knees about 20 times to Mr. Jones, begging him, 'Please, please, bring him to Saratoga,' " was the way Mark Taylor put it.

"We had mixed emotions about selling him," admitted Marie Jones, who also has bred champions Ashado and Speightstown with her husband. "My husband didn't want to sell him. He loves all the horses. But I'm getting more involved in the breeding, and I thought it was a good decision to make. He was supportive of me."

The select yearling sale was to hold its final session Tuesday night at 7 p.m.