Azeri at Keeneland on Jan. 11. <br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Azeri at Keeneland on Jan. 11.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Azeri, 'Fashion' at Keeneland to Sell

Owners who have been reluctant to sell these mares are more committed this time.

Azeri and Island Fashion will be in the spotlight as the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale starts its six-day run in Lexington Jan. 12. Azeri (Hip No. 301) was the 2002 Horse of the Year while Island Fashion (Hip No. 90) was a grade I winner.

Both mares are in foal to 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and they are among the biggest stars in the auction’s catalog. They’re also intriguing because their owners, in the past, have been very reluctant sellers.

Michael Paulson, representing the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, set a world Thoroughbred auction record when he bought back Azeri’s first foal, Vallenzeri (by A.P. Indy), for $7.7 million at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale. Jeff Nielsen of Everest Stables has entered Island Fashion three times in Keeneland sales and scratched her each time. In addition, Nielsen bought the mare back for $2 million at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select mixed sale.

But this time around, according to the consignors of Azeri and Island Fashion, Paulson and Nielsen are serious about letting them go.

“I am very confident that Azeri is going to be sold,” said John Sikura, whose Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency will offer the 11-year-old mare. “Now, if there is some great aberration in the market that we haven’t seen before, then every owner has a right to protect his interest. But the intent is to sell and we’ve said that to any prospective buyer and publicly to any media source.  If there is a reserve, it will be very reasonable.”

Paulson told The Blood-Horse late last year that selling Azeri was “part of the restructuring and wrapping up of my father’s trust.”

Hill ‘n' Dale’s consignment for the Keeneland January sale’s first session, in addition to Azeri, includes two racing or broodmare prospects, Jade Queen and Almonsoon, who also are owned by the trust.

“The September experience (with Vallenzeri) is a reality, and it’s not one that anybody hoped for or feels good about,” said Sikura, who was the colt’s consignor last year. “We’re here in January, and, obviously, we want the mares to sell. What they’ll make, I don’t know, but there will be transactions. The most shocked person on the sales grounds would be me if every one of the mares is not sold.”

Vallenzeri is scheduled to be offered in the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training, according to Sikura. The colt is in Florida being prepared for that auction by Eddie Woods.

Island Fashion is part of an Everest Stables reduction that is being handled by Pope McLean of Crestwood Farm and his family.

“She’s here to sell,” Marc McLean said. “He (Nielsen) has had a lot of success with horses, and he’s enjoyed it, but now he’s going to focus on his (real estate) business. He wants to circle his wagons around what he does for a living, so he definitely is downsizing.”

Nielsen, according to McLean, will “keep a small number” of horses, including the stallion Petionville, who stands at Crestwood near Lexington and is the sire of 9-year-old Island Fashion.

Even though the Thoroughbred market is down dramatically, interest in the Everest horses has been high, McLean said. “We were very busy yesterday (Jan. 10). We had about 450 shows. We were covered up.

“The sale is going to be tough,” he added. “Everybody is wondering what is going to happen. But we’ve got a quality group here, and we feel like they’re standouts. These are the best horses he (Nielsen) has. They aren’t culls. Hopefully, they’ll bring what they’re worth.”

Island Fashion’s yearling filly by Storm Cat probably will be offered later this year at the Keeneland September auction, McLean said.