11/05/2010 2:59PM

Expect more of the same at Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton breeding stock sale


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky’s November breeding stock sales start Sunday at Fasig-Tipton before moving to Keeneland on Monday morning. The Thoroughbred market has seen a little sunshine in the last 12 months, and sellers are hoping that will spur some late-year growth in demand for the weanlings, breeding stock, and racing-age horses that will hit the auction ring between now and Nov. 20, when Keeneland’s 13-day auction ends.

But the 2010 watchword is still “stability,” and that is what auction officials say they are expecting.

“I don’t anticipate a dramatic shift in buying habits or tendencies from recent years, either positively or negatively, based on what we’ve seen in the commercial sales arena in 2010,” said Fasig-Tipton CEO Boyd Browning.

Commercial breeders and homebreeders bid at the November sales to restock or upgrade their broodmare bands. Pinhookers come looking for weanlings they can flip quickly and profitably to the yearling sales. And trainers and action-hungry owners are on the lookout for promising runners that can head from the auction ring to the racetrack in short order.

The news for traditional buying groups is not all good lately. Sale results at the 2010 yearling auctions were mixed, purses have been on the slide, and the general economy is still a worry for many people whose disposable income supports their Thoroughbreds. But the news isn’t all bad, either. Last year’s Keeneland November sale ended with a relatively shallow 6-percent decline in average, and its $20,000 median remained the same as 2008’s (Fasig-Tipton November’s large declines were due mainly to its coming off a 2008 sale that featured the world-record $14 million partnership-buyout of Better Than Honour). The market for racing-age stock with good win potential is still competitive, despite the purse declines. The world’s largest yearling sale, Keeneland September, ended this year with a seven-percent gain in average and a 14-percent rise in median. And horses bred in 2009 – today’s weanlings – are the first crop produced from lower, post-collapse stud fees that can, in theory at least, make it easier for sellers to recoup their production costs.

Those green shoots haven’t blossomed into a full recovery yet, but they do offer evidence that the Thoroughbred market is no longer in the free-fall of 2008.

“I think professional weanling-to-yearling pinhookers, for the most part, did well this year, and I’d see them coming back but being selective,” said Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell. “I think there’s still enthusiasm for racehorses, depending partly on what part of the country you’re in. We’ve got more horses of racing age than we’ve probably had in several years.”

Many of those will sell Nov. 16 from such stables as WinStar, Darley, Robert LaPenta, and Gary and Mary West, among others.

In terms of pedigree and performance, both sales’ catalogs have the usual Grade 1/Group 1-related diamonds. Keeneland’s 4,772-horse catalog also boasts an unusual lot: the first mare to hit public auction in foal to European sensation Sea the Stars. That’s Hip No. 154, Exciting Times, already the dam of Group 1-winning millionaire Gorella and Group 1-placed Porto Santo.

Keeneland’s Grade 1 winners and producers also include Lucky One, the dam of Blind Luck and carrying a full sibling; Act So Noble, Majesticperfections’ dam, carrying a full sibling; Belmont winner Drosselmeyer’s dam, Golden Ballet, in foal to Unbridled’s Song; Woodland dream, dam of Epsom Oaks winner Snow fairy, in foal to Kitalpha; Princesa’s Passion, dam of Presious Passion, in foal to Giant’s Causeway; Shesasurething, dam of Bustin Stones, also in foal to Giant’s Causeway; Fit Right In, dam of Rightly So, in foal to Curlin; and Frankly Fran, dam of Franny Freud, carrying a full sibling.

The Keeneland auction benefitted heavily last year from Overbrook Farm’s dispersal, and this year’s sale features a smaller group of well-bred horses from the Phipps family’s private breeding program. The consignment, handled by Claiborne Farm, includes Persistently’s dam, Just Reward, carrying a Malibu Moon foal and Sightseeing’s dam, Resort, carrying a three-quarter sibling to that runner, by Tapit.

Irving Cowan’s dispersal also puts a number of classy lots on the market, most notably Society Selection. Other operations dispersing or holding reductions this year include Gulf Coast Farms, Stud TNT, and Clovelly Farms.

Fasig-Tipton’s 187 offerings include the winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Awesome Feather, who is cataloged as Hip No. 10. Also in the sale are such Grade 1 winners as Life At Ten, Careless Jewel, Gabby’s Golden Gal, Franny Freud, Crisp, Mona de Momma, Negligee, Unbridled Belle, and Devil May Care. Late entries also gave the sale Grade 1-placed Grace Anatomy and recent Keeneland stakes winner Mimi’s Bling.

New sires have been less fashionable in recent years, but the 2010 weanlings have some noteworthy fathers who might help buck that trend. Among this season’s first-crop sires are two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, dual classic winner Big Brown, 2008 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass, and Irish champion (and runner-up in the 2008 Classic) Henrythenavigator.

Both Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland expect to see good international participation, including from some new quarters. India had prohibited imports from the U.S. and Britain because both have had cases of contagious equine metritis, but they have loosened those restrictions, opening the way to a potentially significant – and increasingly prosperous – Indian market.

“But, remember, we saw American buyers buy several of the most expensive horses on offer last year,” Browning said. Indeed, vigorous domestic bidding for mares was something of a surprise in 2009 and a sign that wealthy American homebreeders, in particular, are taking advantage of post-recession softer prices and continuing to develop their bloodstock.

Fasig-Tipton’s one-day sale takes place Sunday at 4 p.m. at Newtown Paddocks in Lexington. Keeneland’s sale runs Nov. 8-20, with continuous sessions starting daily at 10 a.m.