09/11/2003 11:00PM

Buyers dig deep in pockets through opening four days


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland September yearling sale took a day off Friday from its 12-day stand, interrupting a run of sales price increases.

The sale's first week ended Thursday with 30- to 40-percent gains over last year's opening days, when the yearling market in general suffered declines, especially at the top of the market.

On Thursday, a $950,000 Forestry colt out of the Alydar mare Alyfair topped the session. Bob and Beverly Lewis, accompanied by trainer D. Wayne Lukas, bought the colt from the Taylor Made Sales agency. In the fourth session 252 yearlings were sold for $31,809,500, up 43 percent from last year's fourth day. The average price jumped 38 percent to $126,228, and the median increased 25 percent to $90,000.

Cumulatively, 856 yearlings were sold for $198,223,500 in the first four days, an increase of 32 percent from last year, when 879 sold. The four-day average this year is $231,570, a gain of 36 percent from last year's $170,699 at the same point. The 2003 median for the first four days is $140,000, up 33 percent.

Those bullish results were attributable partly to an increase in regal pedigrees in the catalog and to buyers' interest in filling their orders at the last major yearling sale of the season. Both of those factors were heavily influenced by the fact that Keeneland canceled its prestigious July yearling sale this year, citing a lack of early yearlings because of the effects of mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS). The loss of the July auction pushed horses that otherwise would have sold there into the September catalog, and it deprived buyers of a their usual opportunity to buy horses in July.

Still, the upswings at the Keeneland September sale were unexpectedly steep, driven by exuberant spending by such buyers as Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, who was the leading buyer through Day 4 with $20,990,000 in receipts. The leading seller by gross was Lane's End, with $30,109,000.

The sale was scheduled to resume Saturday and continue through Sept. 20, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. daily.