11/14/2008 12:00AM

Californian finds love at first sight


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Nancy Probert has waited a long time to come watch one of her horses sell at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Probert, who is in her early 70s, has been a California breeder for several decades on her ranch in a redwood forest near Annapolis, Calif. She also keeps a few broodmares in Kentucky and has sold some foals out of them. But until this year, she had never set eyes on the Bluegrass.

"Absolutely, it blows your mind," Probert said of central Kentucky. "It is so, so different, so fabulous compared to California."

By Kentucky standards, Probert has roughed it as a breeder. Her 160-acre ranch, Rancho de los Aviadores, was an aging apple orchard when she and her late husband, Dick, a pilot, bought it in 1975. Their house was a 200-year-old former apple storage building, with no amenities, that they gradually converted into living quarters. But the farm had room for horses, a must for Nancy, and a grass airstrip, essential for Dick and his aviation business. Dick was a famed aviator who founded Avalon Air Transport airline, later called Catalina Airlines, in California in the 1950s, establishing seaplane air service between Santa Catalina Island and Long Beach.

"In the early days, I had to be very careful that the horses didn't put footprints on the runway," she said. "Horses running up and down that grass would screw it up."

The couple's interests intersected in other ways, too. Nancy, a chief flight attendant on Dick's flights, once shipped one of her orphaned Thoroughbred foals via Dick's Grumman Goose to meet up with a San Diego nurse mare.

"He took two seats out of the back of the Goose, and we carried the foal to the Long Beach airport and put it in the back of the plane," she recalled. When the mare didn't accept him, the Proberts flew him back home again. They named the foal Born to Fly.

After Dick Probert died on May 16, family friends and Keeneland auctioneers Scott and Cris Caldwell urged his widow to take a working vacation and finally come see Kentucky.

On Nov. 4, accompanied by her friends and ranch employees Jennifer Sundstrom and Sacha Campbell, Nancy Probert finally had the chance to see one of her foals sell. The bay colt, a son of Street Cry and the stakes-producer Crown of Jewels, brought $80,000 from agent Alastair Roden. Indian Creek consigned the colt on behalf of Probert and her partner, Robert Cowley.

The colt is a half-brother to Comic Queen and a full brother to Allicansayis Wow, both stakes-placed winners.

"I think Cris felt that was about what we were going to get," Probert said. "But looking at the prices, we can't be disappointed. I've tried very hard to always improve, to breed to the best stallions I can afford. I've tried really hard to raise horses to be racehorses. I'm not one to just take any horse and breed it.

"You know what, it gives you hope," she said of the Thoroughbred breeding business. "You always think somehow you have just as much chance at breeding a racehorse as the next person."

Lower prices continue at Keeneland

Prices were lower by Friday, when the Keeneland November auction's 12th of 15 sessions ended.

Friday's session-topper was a $77,000 weanling colt by Sky Mesa that Goldmine Investments bought from the Margaux Farm agency. The dark bay or brown colt is out of the Mr. Greeley winner Princess Falina, a half-sister to Australian Group 1 winner and millionaire Republic Lass. He is from the family of 1977 champion older mare Cascapedia.

The Friday session sold 209 horses for $2,517,000, down 36 percent from the equivalent day in 2007. The $12,043 session average was down 30 percent, and the $8,500 median was off by 24 percent. Buy-backs were up slightly at 23 percent from last year's 21 percent.

Through Friday, the 12 sessions had sold 2,438 horses for $181,386,000, a decline of 46 percent from last year's total for 2,896. The 12-day average of $74,400 was off 36 percent, and median fell 38 percent to $28,000. The 29-percent buy-back rate was up from 22 percent in 2007 at the same point.

The auction continued through Monday with sessions daily at 10 a.m.

Chelokee will stand at Vinery

Grade 3 winner Chelokee, who retired after dislocating the sesamoids in his right front ankle in the Alysheba Stakes on May 2, will enter stud at Vinery in 2009. The 4-year-old Chelokee, a son of Cherokee Run, will stand for $7,500.

Trained by Michael Matz for Centennial Farms, Chelokee won the Grade 3 Northern Dancer Stakes and the Barbaro Stakes in 2007. He also finished third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. He retired with 5 wins from 10 starts and $385,785 in earnings.

Chelokee is out of the Grade 2-placed Silver Ghost mare Dixie Ghost, making him a half-brother to Grade 2 winner Salute the Sarge and Grade 2-placed stakes winner Mymich.

He has been at Vinery's rehabilitation facility since late August after leaving Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.