Vallenzeri, who set a world Thoroughbred auction record last year as a $7.7-million buy-back, finally found a new home as the Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training opened in Lexington April 6. The flashy chestnut colt brought $1.9 million, helping boost the session’s average price to a 6% increase over last year’s comparable figure.
“There’s nothing but blue sky for this horse!” declared Bob Baffert, a candidate this year for racing’s Hall of Fame, after signing the sale ticket for Vallenzeri.
The white-haired California trainer was acting on behalf of a new client, Kaleem Shah, who first teamed up with Baffert to shop for horses earlier this year at the Fasig-Tipton Florida juvenile sale. Shah is the president and founder of Virginia-based CALNET, which is involved in the information technology, intelligence analysis, and telecommunications businesses.
Bloodstock agent Steven Young was the immediate underbidder on Vallenzeri, whose price was the highest so far for a 2-year-old in training sold at public auction this year. The colt worked an eighth of a mile in :10 1/5 prior to the Keeneland juvenile sale.
Last year, Vallenzeri established his world mark at the Keeneland September yearling auction while in the consignment of John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency. This time, Florida pinhooker Eddie Woods consigned the colt, which was sired by 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indyand is the first foal out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri.
The Allen E. Paulson Living Trust bred Vallenzeri and still owned him at the time he was sold at Keeneland.
“He’s by a champion and out of a champion, and he’s a good-looking horse,” Baffert said. “He’s very well conformed. He’s got a fluid way of moving, and all that sort of takes a lot of the guesswork out of it. You’re talking about a lot of years in breeding to get a horse like this."
Baffert, saying that $1.9 million was his final offer, added: “I thought he was going to cost a $1.5 million, $1.6 million, or $1.7 million, but we pushed a little bit. Kaleem Shah is very serious about the game, and we’ve bought some really nice horses. He wants to compete at the top end. I told him, ‘If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly’ -- something I learned from Mike Pegram years ago – and he (Shah) was a grizzly tonight. For this market, $1.9 million is still a lot of money, but I thought we got a pretty good deal on him. I’m really excited that we got him.”
Baffert saw Vallenzeri at Keeneland last September, but said he didn’t bid on the colt then.
“He’s changed a lot; I really like the way he’s changed,” the trainer said. “He’s more mature, and you can tell it in his body. Tonight, I watched him in the back (of Keeneland’s sale pavilion). Before I made up my mind I was going to buy him, I wanted to see how he acted. He was all class and really handled himself well. This afternoon, I was watching him walk around the barn, and for as much as he’d been shown, he was tough. He didn’t act tired.”
Baffert will be patient with Vallenzeri.
“I’m going to give him some time off and freshen him up,” the trainer said. “I’m going to let the horse dictate when he races for the first time, and maybe he’ll race late in the summer or the fall. He’s by A.P. Indy, and the mare (Azeri) got better as she got older, so this is the kind of horse I want later on for the classics.”
Asked if Shah, who didn’t attend the Keeneland juvenile sale, would keep the name Vallenzeri for the 2-year-old, Baffert replied: “I don’t think so. It’s a whole new page here, so we’re going to change the name.”
Woods sold Vallenzeri for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, which bred the colt and bought back his dam for $4.4 million when she was offered, while in foal to 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper , at this year’s Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.
“We’re delighted,” Woods said. “It’s a lot of money, but the horse deserved to bring more, in my opinion. It’s rare you get hands on something like this that’s the whole package, and he was the whole package He also went to a great place for the whole package to go. We’ll see the best of that horse if it’s in him, and I firmly believe it is.”
Woods revealed that Baffert’s winning bid was “well past the reserve,” adding, “The reserve was passed early in the evening.”
Keeneland reported that 31 horses were sold during the juvenile auction’s opening session for a gross of $6,885,000. The average was $222,097, and the median price was $120,000. Compared to a year ago, when 34 2-year-olds were sold, the gross fell 3.4% from $7,127,000, and the median dropped 27.3% from $165,000. The average in 2008 was $209,618.
The buy-back rate fell slightly, from 46.9% in 2008 to 45.6% this year. Forty-nine (46.2%) of the 106 juveniles cataloged for this year’s first session were scratched by their consignors.
“The outs are a little disappointing, but to sell the highest-priced juvenile of 2009 is very exciting,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “Eddie Woods sold our last Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner (Big Brown , who won the Run for the Roses in 2008 after bringing $190,000 at the 2007 Keeneland juvenile auction), and maybe he’s going to sell our next Kentucky Derby winner. Vallenzeri is very close to all of our hearts, and we’ve already had a compliment and a note from Michael Paulson (who represented his family’s trust when buying back Vallenzeri last September and Azeri in January). He is very happy with the sale.”
Commenting on the first session results as a whole, some of which were better than those at this year’s earlier sales of 2-year-olds, where downturns of 30% or more were common, Russell said: “The 2-year-old market has always been a very tough market. These are performance sales, so everything has to work in the right direction. The outs can be attributed to that. The horses that don’t work well and come up with minor injuries are taken out. Those who do perform well get good prices. I think today showed a continuation of what the market is at the moment.”
The second and final session of the Keeneland juvenile auction is scheduled for April 7. It will start at 7 p.m. (EDT).