09/07/2003 11:00PM

Unseen bidders are big spenders


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The 12-day Keeneland September yearling sale, Keeneland's first yearling sale since its July sale was canceled until next year, got under way Monday with some contentious bidding and million-dollar fireworks, headed by a $3.6 million Danzig colt.

Ubiquitous agent Demi O'Byrne, representing Michael Tabor and Coolmore Stud interests, bought the Danzig colt from Helen Alexander's Middlebrook Farm, agent. The colt is out of champion older mare Queena and is a full brother to Grade 1 winner Brahms. He is a grandson of Too Chic, the outstanding broodmare owned by Alexander's sister, Emory Alexander Hamilton, until the mare's death two weeks ago.

The session had produced 10 million-dollar yearlings by 6 p.m. Eastern, as compared to six on last year's opening day, as the industry's major buyers opened their wallets at the last major select sale of the season. The September catalog was packed with quality pedigrees, thanks partly to the July sale's cancellation, which shifted some summer yearlings into the September auction. Among those, buyers seemed most eager to acquire an especially rare commodity: the last yearlings by the late sire Unbridled. Three of the first eight million-dollar lots were by that highly fashionable Claiborne Farm stallion, who died in October 2001 after complications from colic. They were a $2.8 million colt out of champion Serena's Song that Eugene Melnyk bought from Denali Stud; a $2.4 million filly out of Evil Elaine, a half-sister to 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick, that O'Byrne bought from Lane's End, agent; and a $1.1 million filly out of Banshee Winds, a full sister to champion Banshee Breeze, that Reynolds Bell, agent, bought from Mill Ridge, agent.

"We were sick when he died," Dell Hancock, whose family owns Claiborne, said of Unbridled. "It's a shame, not only for the stallion and for Claiborne, but for the whole industry. He was a good sire, and you can see that reflected in some of these prices. You're glad to see them sell well, but it leaves a pit in your stomach, because he died too early."

At least Claiborne could take some comfort from the pedigrees of a couple of other millionaire lots. Danzig, sire of the session-leading $3.6 million son of Queena, stands at Claiborne, and the Hancock family's Paris, Ky., farm also is home to Seeking the Gold, broodmare sire of a $1.15 million Giant's Causeway-Mimi's Golden Girl colt that Valkyre Stud, agent, sold to Nick Zito, agent.

Other high prices Monday afternoon were a $1.75 million Storm Cat-Exing colt that Melnyk bought from Denali Stud, agent; a $1.6 million Storm Cat-Seeking Regina colt that Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum bought from Eaton Sales, agent; a $1.35 million A.P. Indy-At the Half filly that Reynolds Bell, agent, bought from Lane's End, agent; a $1.2 million Kingmambo-Solar Bound colt that Sheikh Mohammed bought from Denali, agent; and a $1 million Storm Cat-Successfully filly that O'Byrne bought from Lane's End, agent.

The pavilion was half-empty when the sale began, but the buyers - whether bidding via telephone, from private rooms, or from other positions out of public sight - were definitely in action. Expecting a conservative market for select yearlings, consignors had kept their reserves reasonable, and they generally were rewarded with strong prices for good horses.

The crowd appeared sparse, but it was well stocked with powerful bidding interests. Sheikh Mohammed, who only sent his agent, John Ferguson, last year, showed up for the September sale in person this year. Regular million-dollar bidders such as O'Byrne, Richard Santulli, and Stanley Fulton also boosted sellers' confidence with their presence. And even Bob and Beverly Lewis, who skipped Saratoga and said they wouldn't be shopping for yearlings this season, did toss a few bids in on a horse or two, including the $2.4 million filly.

"The prices are very strong," Bob Lewis said. "Funny thing is, no one's in the pavilion. But there's a lot of money coming from somewhere."

Much of the money was coming from the usual suspects, and the Lewises benefited from quite a bit of it when Denali sold the Lewises' son of Serena's Song to Melnyk for $2.8 million. But one of the invisible bidders outside the pavilion turned out to be an unusual one: trainer Nick Zito, representing My Meadowview Stable.

Fresh off a glorious Saratoga meet highlighted by dramatic 2-year-old winners such as Birdstone, Zito picked up a $1.15 million Giant's Causeway colt from Catherine Parke's small Valkyre Stud consignment. It was a resounding success for Parke, who sells about a dozen yearlings each season for a variety of clients. But it was an even bigger home run for Michael and Reiko Baum, who bred the colt from one of their four mares. The Baums bought Man o' War Farm near Lexington two years ago and decided to go commercial. They bought this colt's dam, Mimi's Golden Girl, for $475,000 from Padua Stables at the 1999 Keeneland November sale. She won two races for them, earning just $95,570, but she paid them back handsomely with this colt, her first foal.

"What's really exciting is not the money, but that she can throw a foal that looks like that," said Michael Baum. "He had everybody looking at him. When people like Nick Zito like him, it's because they think he can run, and if he can run, that's super. That's what it's about. If he wins a Grade 1 stakes, I've got a top-of-the-line mare."

The Keeneland September sale continues through Sept. 20, with a dark day on Sept. 12. Sessions begin at 10 a.m.