09/23/2002 12:00AM

Declines, sure, but not as steep as first feared


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's September yearling sale, the world's largest Thoroughbred yearling marketplace, ended Saturday with declines of 17 percent in gross and 18 percent in average. But the 12-day auction defied consignors' pre-sale fears of much steeper decreases in revenue.

This year's auction sold 2,933 lots for total receipts of $210,802,500, down from last year's sale of 2,895 yearlings for $254,190,600. Average price this year was $71,873, a drop from $87,803 last year. But median rose by 20 percent, climbing from $25,000 last year to $30,000.

As expected after similar results at the Keeneland July and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select auctions, Keeneland September's two select days suffered substantial declines across the board this year. Gross fell 34 percent to $50,145,000 for 182 lots and average fell 29 percent to $275,522. Median slipped just 5 percent to $175,000.

Those figures were well off the September sale's records, set in 2000, when the gross reached $291,827,100 and average was $88,085. That sale also produced a record top price of $6.8 million for a Storm Cat-Hum Along colt.

Buyers may have been more conservative than in recent years, when aggressive bidding pushed the September sale to record levels, but they did not abandon the marketplace. The 2002 auction still produced 15 million-dollar yearlings - fewer than the 27 last year - including the sale-topping $2.5 million Storm Cat colt.

Demi O'Byrne, agent for Michael Tabor, bought the colt from Lane's End, agent. The sale-topper is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Clear Mandate, by Deputy Minister.

"We are happy in that we're in a stronger situation than we thought we'd be in," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. "We've always felt that this sale is the marketplace, but I don't think anyone knew where that market was going to go when this sale started."

The summer's earlier auctions foreshadowed the Keeneland September results. While boutique auctions like Keeneland July and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga suffered revenue drops of about a third, several key middle-market sales like Fasig-Tipton's July sale performed well. In general, as buyers capped their expenditures, sellers lowered their revenue expectations accordingly. That helped the Keeneland September buyback rate to improve from 28 percent last year to 24 percent in 2002.

Taylor Made Sales led all sellers by volume with 253 lots sold for $25,313,100. Helen Alexander's Middlebrook Farm led all consignors by average price, selling 15 horses for an average of $433,666.

John Ferguson, who represents Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum, took full advantage of generally lower prices. After signing for 26 horses worth $13,555,000, Ferguson left as the auction's leading buyer by gross expenditures.

Among sires, Danzig's progeny averaged $976,666 for six lots sold, ahead of Storm Cat's 14 yearlings who averaged $712,857.