The Paulick Report will be live blogging and/or providing frequent updates from Monday's first session of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale from Lexington, Ky. The sale is scheduled to kick off at 10 a.m. EDT, but as most auction viewers know sessions do not begin on time.
First, a bit of news from John Ferguson, chief bloodstock adviser to Sheikh Mohammed, who is expected to again pace all buyers in expenditures. Ferguson told the Paulick Report that Dubai's ruler is “here,” meaning the United States, though he wasn't sure when he was expected to arrive in Lexington or on the sale grounds.
Ferguson also said the purchase of Keeneland's rival sale company, Fasig-Tipton, by an associate of Sheikh Mohammed would have “absolutely” no bearing on his spending decisions at Keeneland. He said he is excited about what Fasig-Tipton will be doing to promote horse racing internationally. “We want a lot of speed boats out there promoting the sport” — as opposed to cruise ships, said Ferguson, who alluded to the numerous slow-moving organizations that can't seem to get things done. Looking ahead to future sales at Fasg-Tipton, that should be exciting news for breeders. But first, there is this little business of getting some horses sold at Keeneland.
11:30 update… First chuckle of the day when the initial result sheets come out with Morning Wood Farm listed as the buyer of Hip 5, a Ghostzapper filly consigned by Four Star Sales, agent, that brought $185,000. That's the same “business entity” that purchased Silverbulletday for Mike Pegram for $155,000 at the 1998 Fasig-Tipton July Kentucky yearling sale. Bob Baffert picked out and trained Silverbulletday.
11:;45 update…John Ferguson makes his first purchase of the Keeneland sale, Hip 38, a Storm Cat colt out of Runway Model, by Petionville, sold by Taylor Made Sales Agency for $700,000. Among Runway Model's racing wins was the Grade 2 Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland. This colt is her first foal.
Looks like the first seven-figure yearling is in the ring, Hip 56, an Unbridled's Song filly. Hammer price is $1.7 million for the Taylor Made consigned filly on behalf of Aaron and Marie Jones. She is half to champion Speightstown.
Judging by the size of the crowd in the back ring area, Sheikh Mohammed has arrived. Sure enough, he has, and he's bought the half sister to Speightstown. Sheikh Mohammed assumed his customary bidding spot along the wall with his advisors nearby. The Coolmore outfit, including Demi O'Byrne, is situated less than 25 feet behind the sheikh.
2:20 update…Alaska had its chance for a “Bridge to Nowhere,” and Keeneland looks like it just produced a $7.7-million “Bid to Nowhere.” Hip 127, a chestnut colt by A.P. Indy out of Horse of the Year Azeri (by Jade Hunter) has a prolonged bidding battle that finally ends up with a $7.7 million hammer price. The auctioneer says the final bid came from bidspotter Pete's area right in the front of the press box, but no live bidder can be found by the press horde that snakes down the aisle in search of a buyer. Turns out the buyer's initials are “R.N.A.,” or reserve not attained. Sheikh Mohammed's camp was bidding on the horse but dropped out (see 3:05 update). There are instant rumors that the colt was purchased privately beforehand, but that's the nature of the business. Rumors abound, and there is seldom any substantiation. The colt is consigned by Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, agent.
A $7.7-million buyback certainly figures to be a record, but we'll let the trade reporters answer that question officially.
2:45 update…(Bloodhorse reports it is indeed a record, besting by $200,000 the previous high RNA established in 1985 at the now-defunct Keeneland July yearling sale for Ajdal, who went on to become a champion sprinter in England.)
3:05 update…Turns out Sheikh Mohammed and John Ferguson were not bidding on the $7.7 million buy-back, Ferguson tells the Paulick Report. Demi O'Byrne of Coolmore also said he wasn't involved. So the question is, was any live money on the A.P. Indy colt? Michael Paulson was in attendance, but one back-ring source said he left the area immediately after the colt went through the ring.
A short time later, Gainesway, agent for Jess Jackson's Stonestreet, sells an A.P. Indy filly out of graded stakes winner Chimichurri for $3.1 million, with Ferguson signing the ticket for Sheikh Mohammed.
5:35 update….The first session is about to wrap up and it will be interesting to see the final numbers from the day. Anecdotally, it seemed to lack any buzz, and several consignors described the action as “spotty” or “uneven.” Going into the day, several leading buyers shared the observation that the 2008 yearling crop wasn't vintage, at least at the top of the market. Combine that with the worldwide economic slump and the negative publicity that has surrounded horse racing in the United States this year, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a fairly steep decline in the average.
“This is an emotional business,” one consignor said. “You can't really put a tangible value on an unraced yearling, so we are depending on emotions to drive prices. The emotions surrounding the sport right now are not very good.”
One final note. John Sikura, whose Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consigned the A.P. Indy-Azeri colt Michael Paulson bought back for $7.7 million, spoke briefly about the deal. It seemed clear he wasn't thrilled being the consignor of a record-priced buyback and insisted there was live money on the colt up the end. “I still don't know who it was,” he said. “We came very close to having the horse sold.” Bloodhorse got ahold of Michael Paulson, who said he wants to find a partner and keep a piece of the horse.
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