09/21/2004 11:00PM

Closing in on richest auction ever

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland September yearling auction, which entered its ninth of 14 sessions on Wednesday, did something that afternoon that no other yearling sale has ever done: it broke the $300 million barrier for total income. And by the time it ends on Sept. 27, it could become the richest Thoroughbred auction in history.

The current sale is already the third-highest-grossing Thoroughbred auction ever, behind Keeneland's November 1999 and 2000 breeding stock sales. The 1999 November auction sold 3,461 lots for $317,666,000 and the 2000 November sale sold 3,267 for $302,049,800.

The current sale passed the $300 million mark on Wednesday, when Classic Oaks (Taylor Made, agent), sold Hip No. 3001, a Successful Appeal-Loni Girl filly, to Cam Allard for $180,000. As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, that filly was the session-topper.

The previous total income record for a Keeneland yearling sale, $291,827,100, was set in 2000. That mark fell Tuesday, when the current auction's eighth session closed with a cumulative gross of $297,266,400. The auction broke the record with only 1,987 sales, far fewer than the 3,313 yearlings sold when the previous record was set. The cumulative seven-day average was $149,606 with a $75,000 median.

Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, was surprised by the market's strength. He pointed out that aggressive bidding at the select sessions, a strong catalog for middle-market offerings later in the sale, and a broad selection of buyers from North America and overseas had converged to push sale returns beyond Keeneland's expectations.

"We've seen people from Australia, South Africa, Korea, Japan, Russia and the Russian republics, Panama, Mexico, South America, and North America," Russell said.

"As one consignor told me, 'I can't be disappointed in what my horses bring, because everybody who's anybody has been by the barn, and the price is what the market tells me my horses are worth.' It's been a very vibrant market."