Colt; Smart Strike - Madame Thor by Deputy Minister, one of two Smart Strike offspring to sell for $550,000 during the Sept. 16 session of the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Colt; Smart Strike - Madame Thor by Deputy Minister, one of two Smart Strike offspring to sell for $550,000 during the Sept. 16 session of the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Keeneland/Coady Photography

September Sale a Smart Strike Extravaganza

Two of the stallion's offspring top the Keeneland auction's fifth session.

WIth the help of the successful stallion Smart Strike, the Keeneland September yearling sale extended its lead in the race to beat last year’s performance – at least in terms of the cumulative average and median prices – during its fifth session in Lexington. Through Sept. 16, those figures stood at $163,936 and $110,000, respectively, and were up 13.3% and 10%. Following the fourth session, the advantages held by those statistics had been 8.2% and 9.1%.

In another positive development, the buy-back rate of 31.6% was down from 34.2% in 2009.

“The sale continues to go along as we hoped,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales.

The gross revenue through five sessions was $118,690,000, down 12.8%. But with a smaller catalog, the number of horses that were sold also declined, falling 23.1% to 724.

The keys to success for a yearling during the fifth session were being sired by Smart Strike and consigned by the auction division of the Beck family's Gainesway Farm, which sold two of the stallion’s progeny – a colt and a filly -- for $550,000 apiece as agent. No other horses brought higher amounts.

Ahmed Zayat’s Zayat Stables, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July, purchased the handsome colt, which is out of the 11-year-old winning Deputy Minster mare Madame Thor and is a half brother to the winner Star Defender (by Vindication), who finished second in the 2007 Eddy County Stakes in New Mexico.

“Mr. Zayat loved the horse and his advisers loved the horse, so he (Zayat) thought he (the colt) was a ‘must have,’ ” said Bradley Weisbord, the finance and stallion general manager for Zayat Stables. “I was stretching my limit – I was close (to the end) – but Mr. Zayat said, ‘Go get the horse,’ so I had to get the horse.”

Gainesway and Centennial Farms bred the bay colt in partnership after purchasing Madame Thor to breed to grade I winner Corinthian, which raced for Centennial and stands at Gainesway Farm near Lexington. The mare, a $310,000 acquisition in the name of Centennial at the 2008 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, was carrying the Smart Strike colt at the time.

“He is a real well-balanced horse and a good mover,” said Brian Graves, the director of public sales for Gainesway, of the $550,000 yearling. “He was correct and mainly he was by the right sire right now. From a physical standpoint, he really stood out on the day and people were drawn to him. He had 18 scopes (endoscopic exams of the throat). Eight or nine is very solid action, but when you break loose with the right people and get 18 of them, they’re surely enough to get you to the magic number, which seems to be $500,000 or above and is hard to do.

“His reserve was $149,000,” Graves revealed. “It wouldn’t have mattered if the reserve was zero; the horse was going to bring a lot of money. He paid for the mare we were trying to support the stallion with, so it was a good scenario.”

George Bolton, who was one of wine mogul Jess Jackson’s partners in two-time Horse of the Year Curlin  (by Smart Strike) for part of the Thoroughbred's racing career, bought the Smart Strike filly, which is the second foal out of 8-year-old My Miss Storm Cat. The daughter of Sea of Secrets captured the 2006 Desert Stormer Handicap at Hollywood Park and finished third in the 2004 Landaluce Stakes (gr. III) at the same track.

“(Kentucky bloodstock agent) John Moynihan buys all my horses, and this was his favorite filly in the sale,” Bolton said. “He wanted me to stretch a little bit to get her. Her mother ran for Ed Friendly (whom Moynihan advised) and she was very talented, but she had some feet issues. She was one of those horses that if she had been right for most of her career, she would have won grade Is. I love the sire, so I gave it a whirl.”

As for the filly’s price, “it’s always more than you think it will be,” Bolton said. “When you know everybody is going to $350,000 or $400,000, you know that’s not where it’s going to end. I knew it would be a little more, but I didn’t want to lose her so I stretched a little bit. She’s obviously beautifully bred."

According to Bolton, there have been recent developments in the Thoroughbred industry that have made him willing to purchase expensive yearlings.

“The bloodstock market feels like it’s bottoming out and a lot of good things are happening in racing,” he said. “There are slots going into New York (at Aqueduct), a dirt track going in at Santa Anita (to replace the synthetic surface), and new owners are now buying yearlings. There’s a lot things that are good for horse racing, so you can stretch a little more with confidence.”

The Ed and Natalie Friendly Trust, on Moynihan’s advice, purchased My Miss Storm Cat for $70,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale. In 2007, at the Keeneland November breeding stock auction, Jackson’s Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings bought My Miss Storm Cat (in foal to Unbridled's Song) for $925,000.

Moynihan is an adviser to Jackson, whose Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings bred the $550,000 Smart Strike filly purchased by Bolton. In partnership with Bolton, Jackson will race a $1 million Smart Strike – Ask Me No Secrets colt, which was bought by Bolton earlier in the September sale.

Bolton said he had no partners in the filly yet, but didn’t rule out sharing the risk because “sometimes people will call me (wanting to be partners) when I’m going home from the sale.”

According to Moynihan, “This filly was definitely one of the best fillies we raised this year (at Jackson’s Stonestreet Farms). We actually loved her at the farm; we’ve loved her every day of her life. George was still looking for a well-bred filly. He swung hard yesterday (Sept. 15) on the ($700,000) Malibu Moon  filly (that was purchased by Leonard Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm) and this was the other one he really wanted.”

The results for the September auction’s fifth session included a gross of $23,234,000 for the 197 horses that sold. The average was $117,939 and the median was $100,000. The buy-back rate was 29.9%.

Last year, the 238 yearlings that sold during the fifth session grossed $18,439,500 and averaged $77,477. The median was $60,000 and the buy-back rate was 33.5%.

Under the sale’s new format, book two of the catalog covers sessions three through six instead of two sessions as in the past.

“This session (the fifth) brought the highest median and the lowest buy-back rate of book two, so far, which we view as positive signs,” Keeneland's Russell said. “We have a lot of buyers on the grounds – a nice mix of familiar faces as well as new ones. They are all here looking for good value on a quality horse, and as we’ve seen all week, there’s some spirited bidding going on for the really good horses. So far, we’re pleased with how book two is going.”