11/01/2007 11:00PM

Big names on offer at November sales

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton auction houses in Lexington could have a lot to be thankful for by the end of the month.

Kentucky's November sales, which start Sunday afternoon at Fasig-Tipton before moving to Keeneland for two weeks, will feature strong catalogs, especially for young mares - a fact that assures high prices at the top of the market. And sale officials also are optimistic that more meat-and-potatoes offerings could sell well, too, after a yearling auction season that saw middle-market youngsters sell well this fall.

"I think the September sale showed more buoyancy than the industry expected," Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell said of the company's flagship fall yearling auction.

That two-week auction produced surprising gains in average and median for late-selling yearlings, after the select days. That performance was followed by strong gains at Fasig-Tipton's middle-class October yearling sale.

"We hope that will also be reflected in the November sale," Russell said. "When September is good, November is usually good."

For breeders, racing fans, and pedigree enthusiasts alike, the 16 days of sales at both venues offer a stellar group.

Fasig-Tipton's one-day sale kicks the proceedings off Sunday, with a bevy of "now" fillies whose catalog pages drip with black type, some of it practically still wet from recent Grade 1 wins.

Maryfield, Hip No. 37, comes into the sale off a half-length victory in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. West Point Thoroughbreds also is sending two of its 2007 Grade 1-winning fillies, Dream Rush and Irish Smoke. Other headlining fillies and mares include Grade 1 winners Appealing Zophie, Ermine, Pussycat Doll, and Cash Included, offered as racing or broodmare prospects, and Grade 1 winners Round Pond, Octave, and Cotton Blossom, for sale as broodmare prospects. Also up for auction are such proven mares as Donation, the dam of the Grade 1 winner Lawyer Ron who sells in foal to Distorted Humor; Appealing Storm, the dam of Grade 1 winner Vacare in foal to Bernardini; and Santa Catalina, the dam of Grade 1 winner and sire Golden Missile in foal to Afleet Alex.

And it's not all about fillies and mares: There are some interesting males among the proven racehorses. Hip Nos. 182 and 183, respectively, are Grade 1-winning millionaire Silver Wagon, offered as a stallion prospect, and major earner Tap Day, who is available as a racing or stud prospect. And Fasig-Tipton also is auctioning a share in fashionable stallion Distorted Humor, whose name has stayed in lights this year with such runners as Any Given Saturday.

The high-quality trend continues at Keeneland from Nov. 5-19. The Keeneland auction cataloged a record 5,415 horses this year, and there is deep quality in the quantity. Among the flashy Grade 1 winners set to go through the ring are 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever, now a broodmare prospect; $2 million earner Megahertz, in foal to Bernardini; Piano, dam of Breeders' Cup Classic third-place finisher Awesome Gem; millionaire Two Item Limit, also carrying a Bernardini foal; Spoken Fur, in foal to hot sire Smart Strike; Amorama, an earner of more than $760,000, in foal to Ghostzapper; Octave's dam Belle Nuit and Grade 1 winner Behaving Badly, also both in foal to Bernardini; three-time Grade 1 winner Bushfire, consigned as a broodmare prospect; Kokadrie, the dam of Breeders' Cup Juvenile third-place finisher Kodiak Kowboy in foal to Lion Heart; and champion Fleet Indian, in foal to Storm Cat.

The auctions' weanling draft also is studded with some genetic jewels, including a half-sister to certain Horse of the Year Curlin from the only crop of the late Horse of the Year Saint Liam. She sells at Keeneland as Hip No. 558.

The Keeneland sale also gets a boost from the dispersal of the late Robert Sangster's family's Swettenham Stud, as well as major reductions from notable homebreeding operations Adena Springs and Golden Eagle Farms.

The sales' Grade 1-connected horses might be beyond the reach of many commercial breeders, who are the backbone of the November mare market, but they could prove irresistible to top-of-the-line buyers who breed to race or for the elite end of the select yearling market, Fasig-Tipton chief operating officer Boyd Browning said.

"I think people really want quality horses, and mares in particular," he said. "Some people are buying top-end mares with commercial aspirations, those mares aren't just factories. They're a chance to develop a family or build a pedigree. People at that level aren't just dictated by dollars-and-cents economics."

That could be a hedge against downturns like those seen this year at the pinnacle of the select yearling markets, where prices slipped after the two major bidders, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum and Coolmore Stud, failed to lock horns as they did last year. But the yearling market overall was strong, Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton officials point out, and the higher returns for middle-market yearlings, in particular, could encourage those yearling sellers to reinvest their profits either in upgrading mares or in weanlings to pinhook. The weakness of the dollar overseas could work to the middle and even lower market's advantage, as foreign interests will likely spot opportunities to pick up horses for relative bargains.

But Keeneland's Russell warns not to expect boom-time prices, especially from pinhooking buyers.

"I think they'll have a ceiling as to what they're willing to spend," he said. "I think people realize that there is a top to the market. We always hope for break-out horses, but there seems to be an established ceiling on the market now."

Fasig-Tipton's November mixed sale was to take place 2 p.m. Sunday at Newtown Paddocks in Lexington. Keeneland's auction was to run Nov. 5-19, with sessions beginning 10 a.m. daily in the track's sale pavilion. Fasig-Tipton also will host the annual Adena Springs breeding stock auction at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 8.