Don Gato (colt; Storm Cat - Here I Go by Mr. Prospector) brought a final bid of $800,000 at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Don Gato (colt; Storm Cat - Here I Go by Mr. Prospector) brought a final bid of $800,000 at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Joe DiOrio

Don Gato Brings $800,000 at Keeneland

Average rises at Keeneland April sale.

Fewer horses than ever before were sold at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training, which ended Wednesday night in Central Kentucky. But the statistics really weren’t that much different from a year ago even though Keeneland officials made several changes in an effort to liven up the auction.

The number sold was down 6.1% (82 to 77) while the gross revenue fell only 2.0%. The average price rose 4.3%, and the median price declined 3.2%.

“The economy is a lot different today than it was this day last year,” said Keeneland’s director of sales Geoffrey Russell, explaining why he thought the new schedule and format didn’t seem to have much of an impact statistically.  “If you want to look at the gas prices at the Shell station on Alexandria Drive, that would be a very good example of what has happened.”

Russell and the Keeneland staff reduced the April sale’s number of under tack shows from two to one; they conducted the sale one week earlier; and they conducted two evening sessions (April 8-9) instead of one afternoon session.

“I think the new format worked very well,” Russell said. “It gave the sale an extra buzz, and there was a great feel both nights here. The night sessions added to the experience of this sale. But I would have liked to have had more horses. You need to have a critical mass to attract buyers.”

The 77 horses sold grossed $16,299,000 and averaged $211,675. Their median price was $150,000. The previous low for number sold was 82 in 2007. The auction has not sold more than100 head since 2005, when the total reached 105. Last year, the sale generated a gross of $16,637,000, an average of $202,890, and a median of $155,000.

But maybe the “extra buzz’ that Russell talked about did help improve the buy-back rate, which dropped from an all-time high of 47.1% last year to 38.4% this year.

Don Gato topped Wednesday's session and the sale,  bringing $800,000 from Lexington-based bloodstock agent and Four Roses Thoroughbreds Kentucky manager Hanzly Albina and Guy Khoury, who were representing Mammed Mirza Gusseynov of Azerbaijan. The bay Storm Catcolt is out of the grade III-placed winner Here I Go (by Mr. Prospector) and is a half-brother to 2005 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Summerly (by Summer Squall). Gusseynov lives in Azerbaijan’s capital and largest city, Baku, and owns the racetrack there.

“Unfortunately he (Gusseynov) could not come, but he was interested in this horse,” Khoury said. “He’s a very lovely horse. He was No. 1 for us. For the moment, the horse will stay here in the States.”

Tom VanMeter of Eaton Sales bred Don Gato in Kentucky in partnership with Michael Lowenbaum and Dr. Rand E. Dankner. Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds consigned the colt to the Keeneland April auction, where he worked an eighth of mile in :10 1/5.

“It was OK,” said VanMeter of Don Gato’s price.  “He was very well bought, but it still is a lot of money. He’s still the sale topper. I have kind of mixed emotions. He’s very young, and he’s very green. He wasn’t pushed this winter at all. He isn’t a professional yet at what he does, and I think that was pretty obvious in his work. He was switching leads and probably didn’t look that good. He had no idea what he was doing.”

Don Gato wasn’t offered at public auction as a yearling because “he banged his leg and then it turned out to be a ding on the X-ray,” VanMeter said.  “It would have been a little repository issue.”

The Keeneland sale’s top-priced filly also was sold Wednesday evening. The chestnut daughter of More Than Ready was purchased for $625,000 by Darley USA president Jimmy Bell in the name of Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager John Ferguson.

“She fits the profile that Sheikh Mohammed really has been looking for in these 2-year-old purchases,” Bell said. “Obviously, she was a lovely mover on the racetrack; her time speaks for itself. She was hard to fault on the shank, and she really has a lovely female family. We look for good things to come.”

Produced from the 9-year-old unraced Storm Cat mare Riverboat Miss, the filly is from the family of grade I winner River Special. Consigned by Eddie Woods, agent, she worked an eighth of a mile in :9 4/5. McMahon Bloodstock purchased the filly for $250,000 at the 2007 Keeneland September yearling auction.