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Zayat horses shine in ring

If Keeneland sends out thank-you cards after this year's November breeding stock sale, one of the first names on the list should be owner and entrepreneur Ahmed Zayat.

Two of the more accomplished former members of Zayat Stables provided some of the brightest spots in what has been a struggling exercise as graded stakes winners Mushka and Baroness Thatcher sold for $2.4 million and $1.8 million, respectively, on the second day of the 15-day November auction.

Zayat Stables, which focuses specifically on developing racing and breeding prospects, is selling more than 70 horses throughout the November sale. In a market where many horses are struggling to find new homes, Zayat's race-ready prospects had suitors lining up for them.

Mushka sold to Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable, with Baroness Thatcher going to trainer Patrick Biancone, who recently came off a yearlong suspension.

"Considering the market, we're very pleased," said Zayat, who also sold the bay filly J Z Warrior for $1.125 million to Olin Gentry Tuesday. "I think it's a combination of things. It's horses like Mushka, who is a special filly, and I think you already have a proven product that you can take and race the next day.

"Perhaps it's a better return on an investment right now and less risk involved," he added.

Success in the sales ring is nothing new for Mushka, a 3-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, as she topped the 2006 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction when she sold to Zayat for $1.6 million. Consigned by Eaton Sales Tuesday, Mushka had the board climbing steadily after opening with a bid of $200,000.

"We loved her as a yearling, but Mrs. Moran couldn't be in Saratoga when she sold," said Franny Abbott, who signed the ticket on behalf of Moran. "We're looking forward to running her a little bit more and then taking her to the breeding shed."

Abbott said Mushka would return to trainer Bill Mott. who has saddled her in all seven of her career starts, including her win in the Grade II Demoiselle Stakes last November.

Biancone trained Baroness Thatcher for nine of her 10 starts in 2007 for Zayat Stables before being suspended in November of that year by Kentucky racing regulators when cobra venom was found in one of his barns. Biancone said he purchased the 4-year-old daughter of Johannesburg for an undisclosed group of new clients and plans to keep the Grade III-winning filly — who captured an allowance race at Keeneland on Oct. 11 — in training.

"It's emotional because I love her. She was a great horse and I hope she can keep doing some more for us," said Biancone, who added that he had his trainer's license in California and would apply in Kentucky "if we have something to run here."

While sessions numbers continued to suffer, the declines were not as harsh as Monday, thanks in part to the strength of the Zayat horses, which accounted for three of the day's eight seven-figure offerings.

Tuesday's gross of $42,006,000 was down 39.5 percent from last year's corresponding session, an improvement over Monday when the gross declined 56 percent compared to its 2007 numbers. The overall gross of $90,027,000 is down 49.6 percent from 2007, while the rate of horses not sold was 36.4 percent compared to 19.5 percent a year ago.

"Certainly at this level we're experiencing a very difficult market," said Michael Hernon, director of sales for Gainesway. "That said, on the flip side, there is great value to be had."