11/17/2008 12:00AM

Gross plummets 46% at Keeneland November

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's November breeding stock sale ended its 15-day run Monday with steep declines that are making sale officials and breeders feel cautious about the future.

The 2008 auction started with 294 more horses in its catalog than it had last year, fielding a record 5,709 mares, weanlings, and racing or breeding prospects. Despite that increase, it ended up selling 362 fewer horses than last year's auction did, due to the far weaker economic climate.

At the close of business Monday, Keeneland's gross receipts for 3,019 horses this year totaled $185,552,300, a dizzying drop of 46 percent from last year's aggregate for 3,381 horses. The 15-day average price was down 39 percent, falling from $100,821 a year ago to $61,462. Median fell 43 percent, from $35,000 to $20,000.

Buybacks increased, climbing from 22 percent to 28 percent, a number that did not take into consideration the many horses that were scratched as their consignors opted not to sell into a market so sharply down.

The sale started with million-dollar bids, including the sale-topping $3 million price Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum paid Taylor Made, agent, for Grade 1 winner Hystericalady. But even from the first session it was clear that the market drop many had anticipated, thanks to the global financial crisis and oversupply in the Thoroughbred market, was going to be worse than the 15 percent to 30 percent decline they had imagined. On opening day, the gross fell 56 percent, while average tumbled 43 percent and median was down 32 percent. Part of the downturn was due to the fact that the equivalent 2007 session had had a world-record broodmare in $10.5 million Playful Act, but the slides continued throughout most of the rest of the sessions.

"Given all the external forces, we're about where every other commodity in the world is," Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said. "Going in, I hoped it wouldn't be this down, but when you consider everything that's happened worldwide since mid-September, it's about the same as other markets.

"There's no money. There are three major areas in recession: Europe, Asia, and America. There's a lack of consumer confidence in anything, not just Thoroughbreds. And there's a strong dollar."

Unfavorable exchange rates and gloomy overseas economic news stymied traditional players from Australia to Europe, but Russell noted that foreign buyers from other areas, like South America, still helped bolster some prices even in the sale's late sessions. But there were few bright spots, and Keeneland officials said, for now, they are hoping things turn around by January.

"But if you look at the cost of hay and all that, it's going up," Russell said. "Personally, I think it's going to take a while."

Monday's session fell less than 2 percent in gross, with 150 horses selling for $663,900, as compared to a $673,500 gross for 114 horses a year ago. But the $4,426 average and $2,000 median were down by 25 percent and 46 percent, respectively. Buybacks increased slightly, from 27 percent to 28 percent.

"Every breeder out there is saying they're very cautious, they're going to try to keep their expenses down as much as they can," Russell said. "Some have told me they'll foal their mares but may not breed their mares back, or may only breed some of them back. I think there are a lot of consequences that will come out of this."

Silver Wagon moving to New York

Dual Grade 1 winner and millionaire Silver Wagon will relocate from Kentucky to New York's Empire Stud for the 2009 breeding season, Empire co-owner Jamie LaMonica confirmed Monday.

The 7-year-old Wagon Limit horse will stand for $5,000, the same fee he had this year while standing at Hurricane Hall in Lexington. He will continue to stand as the property of a partnership.

"The stallion market being what it is in Lexington, the collective group thought he'd be better off in New York," LaMonica said. "He won his two Grade 1's in New York, New York has got the video lottery terminals, and we thought he'd be a better standout there."

Silver Wagon, a son of the Darn That Alarm winner So Ritzy, is a full brother to the multiple-graded-placed stakes winner Rehoboth and a half-brother to Grade 3-placed winner So Glitzy. He has no foals of racing age yet.

Goffs sale off to slow start

The Goffs November foal sale, which on Friday will feature the only known George Washington foal headed to auction, got off to a rocky start Monday in County Kildare, Ireland. The session sold only 48 of 193 horses offered.

The session-topper was a Modigliani-Yulara weanling colt that Bobby O'Ryan bought for 35,000 euros, or about $44,100. The 48 horses sold grossed about $379,008, 54 percent less than last season's total for 74 horses. Average fell 30 percent to about $7,896.

Hip No. 1245, the filly by the late sire George Washington, is out of the Rainbow Quest mare Flawlessly. George Washington broke down during the 2007 Breeders' Cup Classic and had to be euthanized. He had been retired to stud after his 3-year-old year in 2006, but was brought back to the track because of fertility problems.