09/13/2007 11:00PM

Gems can be uncovered late in sales

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - While there seems to be a general expectation that prices for horses should decline as the Keeneland September sale progresses, there is less evidence that such should be the case from the racing performance of many horses who were sold quite late in the sale.

For example, Arlington Million winner Jambalaya sold in Book 5 of the 2003 September sale for a measly $2,500. Jambalaya was bred by Gustav Schickedanz, who bred and raced Jambalaya's sire, Langfuhr, and still owns a significant portion of the stallion.

As a result, Schickedanz did not suffer the same financial kick in the head that another breeder who had paid Langfuhr's $20,000 stud fee would have felt.

But even discounting that, Schickedanz did forgo the possibility of selling that season and spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to raise the colt and send him through the sale.

Few breeders can keep them all, however, and Schickedanz sold the growthy son of Langfuhr for the price the market dictated at that moment. And just as breeders have no crystal ball to predict which yearlings will become stars, nor do the many buyers who passed on the opportunity to purchase him. To date, Jambalaya has earned more than $1.5omillion and become a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner.

Nor is Jambalaya unique. As the September sale progresses, more and more yearlings fall through the cracks as buyers leave the sale scene. Buyers' premature departures are potential long-term losses to numerous racing stables when the decision to leave is based on the assumption that all the "good horses" are gone after Book 2 or 3.

In direct contradiction to this, Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, said: "Keeneland believes there is quality at every level, as well as good value for buyers."

This information runs counter to a general notion among buyers that yearlings in the later books at the sale are inferior racing prospects, but the hard data from sales and racing shows that the Keeneland sale does contain top-class racers from beginning to end.

Although the first half-dozen sessions, accounting for books 1 through 3, have a higher proportion of stakes winners, horses such as Jambalaya, who find success at the highest level of racing, continue to show up throughout the September sale.

As Rob Whiteley wrote in "Buying Sales Yearlings Plain and Simple," a new educational booklet published by the Consignors and Breeders Association, "Sessions 7 through 14 at Keeneland accounted for no less than 131 graded stakes from 2002 through mid-2007," including winners of the Preakness Stakes, Santa Anita Derby, Futurity, Spinaway, Vosburgh, and other major events.

Yet these talented athletes are available for a fraction of the cost for those situated earlier in the sale.

Whiteley concluded that "the message is clear: If you seek quality racehorses, but have a more modest pocketbook, show up and stick around. You never know where the next great racehorse will come from."

While the marketplace has seen an improved level of trading in Book 2, Bayne Welker, who coordinates the sales consignments for Mill Ridge, said that Keeneland had "made a concerted effort to strengthen Book 3 on conformation," and the effect of that and of the economic trends together have made "the middle market the place that yields the best return for both buyers and breeders."

Past that middle market, however, the buyers have been scoring major hits at minor prices with recent graded stakes winners such as Futurity Stakes winner King of the Roxy and Delaware Handicap winner Unbridled Belle.

As a son of the stallion Littleexpectations, who was standing for $3,500, King of the Roxy was cataloged on the final day of the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2005, and as the third yearling through the ring that day, he sold for only $8,000 to trainer Richard Matlow.

"I just sit up there and watch every horse go in," Matlow said. "He had the conformation, and I just buy good-bodied yearlings and go for more reasonably priced horses because I'm willing to give up some on pedigree. I bought Grade 1 winner Reraise for $8,000 also, and I ended up selling him after his first race."

Matlow began attending this year's Keeneland September sale over the weekend for Book 3, but he said, "Sometimes they skunk me the first four or five days I'm there. Eventually the prices will soften up, and I can buy a horse I really like for what I can afford."