09/17/2001 11:00PM

Average price steady in trying time

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Seemingly undaunted by economic downturn and national disaster, the 13-day Keeneland September yearling sale continued at a steady pace over the weekend, ringing up $200 million in gross revenues for the third consecutive year on Saturday.

Through Sunday, the last session for which complete figures were available, the 2001 September sale was running behind in gross revenue - a product of its smaller catalog this year - but the average and median prices were both up.

Overall, 1,358 yearlings sold in the first six days, down from last year's larger catalog, when 1,542 had sold by this point. Cumulative gross revenue was $224,896,000, down 11 percent from last year's figure. This year's six-day average price was $165,608, up slightly from last year's $164,058, and the median rose 7 percent to $80,000.

As of 5 p.m. Monday, the auction's seventh session, the session leader was a $210,000 Grindstone colt purchased by Buckram Oak Farm. Drumkenny Farm, agent, sold the colt on behalf of The Lads partnership, which bought him for $90,000 at the 2001 Keeneland January sale. The colt is out of Divorce Testimony (Vice Regent).

Following the normal trend, the auction's later sessions are producing lower prices than those seen in the heady select sessions on Sept. 10 and Sept. 12. The sale was postponed on Sept. 11, the day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. But some big-name buyers are still participating. On Sunday, the auction's sixth of 13 days, trainer Bob Baffert, agent, paid $300,000 for a colt from the first crop of Elusive Quality.

The colt, a half-brother to stakes-winner Kohen Witha K. and Grade 3-placed Squall Linda, was one of 35 six-figure yearlings Sunday. The session's buy-back rate was 24 percent, a moderate level as compared with Keeneland July's 33 percent and Fasig-Tipton July's 38 percent.

Mill Ridge Sales, agent, sold Sunday's top-priced colt, who is out of the stakes-winning The Axe II mare Glimmer Glass.

So far, the message to Kentucky's commercial Thoroughbred industry seems to be one of optimism as buyers are prepared to spend substantial money for horses they believe are likely to get a piece of American racetracks' lucrative purses. But even as the average and median prices rise, the rate of increase might not be sharp enough to suit commercial breeders, who have spent nearly 25 percent more, on average, for the stud fees that produced these September yearlings. Still, given the buy-back rate, consignors in the broader September market clearly are more prepared to sell than some of their boutique-vendor counterparts at the summer auctions were.

Keeneland's smaller September catalog this year undoubtedly helped keep prices steady at the auction's later sessions. The slimmer catalog size - from last year's record 4,650 to 4,483 - helped boost the average price and weeded out some of the oversupply: lower-market horses who have struggled in the highly selective yearling market in recent years. Some of those horses, as well as ones who failed to reach their reserves in September, will get another chance in a smaller market next month. That's when Keeneland will hold its first October yearling sale on Oct. 15-16.

Point Given arrives at new home

Leading Horse of the Year candidate Point Given arrived Sunday at Three Chimneys Farm, where he will take up stud duties in 2002. Point Given, winner of this year's Preakness, Belmont, Travers, and Haskell Invitational, was shipped by air from California and arrived in Kentucky at noon.

Richard Mulhall, racing manager for Point Given's owner, Prince Ahmed bin Salman, met Point Given, a 3-year-old Thunder Gulch colt, at the farm.

"The trip didn't bother him a bit," Mulhall said, noting that Point Given had plenty of travel experience during his two-season career, which took him to nine racetracks from coast to coast.

Salman, who campaigned Point Given in the name of The thoroughbred Corporation, retired the colt on Aug. 30 after veterinarians discovered the colt had strained a tendon in his left front leg. Point Given will be syndicated with a share price of $1 million, bringing his total valuation to $50 million. He will stand for a $125,000 fee.