Even in a market ripe with angst, one can count on the lure of a classic-producing stallion to get the cash flowing in the thoroughbred auction arena.
On a day that saw the commercial marketplace take the latest in a long line of hits, one sire was able to make the most out of his rapidly rising stature.
A dark bay son of Birdstone, sire of two classic winners this season, elicited the highest bid during the opening session of the Fasig-Tipton July yearling sale when he sold for $400,000 to agent John Ferguson on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's Darley operation.
The overall numbers for the session suffered substantial declines, but the well-built colt consigned by Dapple Stud proved again that money will show up for the right offering.
Birdstone, who stands for $10,000 at Gainesway, has become one of the "now" stallions the last few months, having sired Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird.
"Birdstone has blasted onto the sire scene with two classic winners," Ferguson said. "He's a horse who obviously was a great racehorse, but he wasn't a horse that would have been too high on our list. But any stallion that can produce two classic winners in his first crop naturally gets on our list ... and this was an athletic, correct horse who really took our eye."
Out of the Seattle Slew mare Slew Smarts, the Birdstone colt is a half-brother to stakes-placed winner Por Que.
Earlier in the session, Darley also bought a bay son of Bernardini for $350,000, which tied for the second-highest price of the day with a Rock Hard Ten filly.
Given the market downturn, however, the benefits of hot sires will go only so far.
The overall gross of $8,933,500 from 125 horses sold was down 32.9 percent from the $13,311,000 generated by 142 sold during the corresponding session in 2008.
The average ($71,468) and median ($50,000) were off from last year by 23.8 percent and 33 percent, respectively, and 92 horses failed to meet their reserves.
"There are pockets of strength in the market if you have a really good horse," said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales. "There will be some good sales, but there are going to be painful sales for breeders as well."
As expected, the yearling-to-juvenile resellers were much less aggressive in their spending this July after suffering through a 2-year-old market that was down about 30 percent.
Fasig-Tipton officials tried to offset that restraint by attracting more trainers for this sale, but the opening session featured little participation from that group.
"We wouldn't attribute a complete success to that mission," said Boyd Browning, president of Fasig-Tipton. "Sometimes what you try to do works to a tee, and sometimes you don't accomplish everything you set out to do.
"Clearly there were more end-users, there were more owners here. But we would still like to have more trainers walking around the sales grounds."
The sale continues at 10 a.m. Tuesday.