03/20/2008 11:00PM

Zayat Racing manager happy with prospects

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Sobhy Sonbol was born in Egypt, earned a degree in biomechanics at the University of California at Berkeley, and returned home to work for businessman Ahmed Zayat in Cairo. Sonbol's pastime in Egypt was racing horses. He had horses racing at the track in Alexandria and the two tracks in Cairo. That was then.

Nowadays, the 30-something naturalized American lives in New Jersey. His business relationship with Zayat has evolved to where Sonbol is now the Zayat Racing operation's racing manager.

Ahmed Zayat is also a naturalized American citizen who was born in Egypt, and he still does business there. He lives, however, in New Jersey. A Harvard graduate and Wall Street-trained entrepreneur, Zayat has 200 horses in training, mostly on the East Coast. That does not include an estimated 70 2-year-olds.

Sonbol took a moment off from horse-hunting at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s March 2-year-olds in training sale, held Tuesday and Wednesday, to talk a bit about Zayat's modus operandi.

"We're always on the lookout for 2-year-olds who indicate that they may be better than the 2-year-olds we have," said Sonbol, who bought four horses for Zayat at the Ocala sale for $1,165,000. "We manage to find a few at the 2-year-old sales that fill the bill, and there were some excellent prospects at this sale."

Record sale led by Kentucky buyers

The two-day Ocala Breeders' Sale Company's auction was a record-buster. The gross of $33.3 million was $7 million over a year ago. The average price of $143,626 skyrocketed by nearly 37 percent over last year. The median price of $100,000 was 22 percent better than in 2007. The buy-back rate of 32 percent was down a hair from 2007. There were 233 horses sold, 20 fewer than in '07, with 55 selling for $200,000 or more versus 35 a year ago.

Kentucky buyers did approximately 30 percent of the business. California buyers were next, and Florida-based buyers rounded out the top three groups doing the buying. Needless to report, consignors and the sale company were happy with the results.

This was the first sale with under-tack shows conducted on an all-weather Safetrack surface.

Adena Springs numbers steady

The numbers for the Adena Springs sale of homebred 2-year-olds in training this past Monday evening were more or less in line with last year's auction. There were 126 sold, six fewer than last year. The buy-back rate dropped from 32 percent to 23 percent. The gross of $5.2 million was up from $4.9 million. The average of $54,469 was almost the same as 2007, but the median dropped some 30 percent to $28,000.

Frank Stronach, owner of Adena Springs, was on hand, and when all was over, he commented that it was a good sale and that, like all sales, you win some and you lose some.

Sam Gordon, the president of the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association was the leading buyer, having bought three horses for a total of $535,000.

No worries from Steinbrenner

Hank Steinbrenner was among the crowd attending the Ocala Breeders' Sales March sale. While many queried him about the World Series prospects of the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner was more than willing to talk about the Kentucky Derby chances of his colt Majestic Warrior.

"Toss out the Louisiana Derby effort," said Steinbrenner, referring to Majestic Warrior's seventh-place finish March 8 in his 3-year-old debut. "We thought he was ready and he wasn't."

When asked about what's next for Majestic Warrior, last year's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes winner, Steinbrenner said that the colt is going to race in a prep for the Derby, possibly the Wood Memorial or the Florida Derby.

"He's an A.P. Indy," said Steinbrenner, "and this could mean that Majestic Warrior could be a little slow coming around. Most of the good horses by A.P. Indy get better with age, so we're not going to rush him. We have a responsibility to our partners in this, and we are all on the same page."