11/06/2008 1:00AM

High buyback rate signals hard times for sellers

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The market for mares and weanlings sold at auction continued to show signs of weakness on Wednesday as buyers at Keeneland's November breeding stock sale failed to meet consignors' expectations for their horses. All major sales figures for the session were down compared to last year, confirming that the sales market has begun a major correction under the strains and uncertainty of the deteriorating U.S. economy.

In total, 224 horses sold on Wednesday for $24,698,000, a total that was down 42 percent compared to gross figures for the Wednesday session last year. Average slid 33.3 percent to $110,259, and median was off 36.5 percent to $82,500.

Buybacks also continued to plague consignors, with 88 of the 312 horses going through the ring - 28.2 percent - failing to meet the reserve prices set by sellers. Last year during the third session, 20.9 percent of the horses did not get bids exceeding their reserves.

Cumulatively, through three days of often miserable selling, 523 horses have sold for $114,725,000, a 48.1 percent drop compared to the total during the first three days of the mammoth sale last year. The average over the first three sessions this year, $219,359, is off 36.7 percent, and the median, $125,000, is off 34.2 percent.

There was some evidence that consignors adjusted their reserves in response to the weakness shown on Monday and Tuesday. However, for some consignors, no adjustment was enough to get their horses sold.

Craig Bandoroff, the co-owner of Denali Stud, a major consignor, had 10 of the 17 horses he had sent through the ring by late afternoon fail to meet their reserves.

"It's frustrating," Bandoroff said. "People have a value of what a horse is worth to them, and so you try to adjust to that, but you can only adjust so far. There's a limit to where we can adjust to."

Throughout the day, bidding was conducted in a mostly empty sales pavilion. Few horses generated any spirited bidding duels, and the atmosphere was more akin to a fifth day at Keeneland November rather than a third day.

A mother-daughter pair who sold back-to-back early on Wednesday afternoon provided the only bit of excitement during an otherwise pedestrian session.

The mother, My White Corvette, sold for $825,000 just after her weanling daughter, a half-sister to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Stardom Bound, sold for $350,000. The $825,000 for White Corvette was by far the session-topping price for a mare halfway through the Wednesday session, and the $350,000 for her weanling was the session-topping price for a weanling with little more than 50 horses remaining.

Barry Weisbord signed the ticket for My White Corvette - a 10-year-old daughter of Tarr Road out of the Marfa mare Wind Chime - for his client Bobby Flay, the celebrity chef. She was consigned by Hunter Valley Farm as agent. Three of her four foals of racing age have won.

Weisbord said he expected the mare to bring at least $1.3 million, and that he had not planned on bidding on her. However, he called Flay when the bidding seemed to stall at $550,000 and none of the major buyers appeared to be interested, he said.

"We really didn't think we were going to be able to afford her," Weisbord said. He said that the mare's qualities were obvious, considering that she was only 10 years old and had already produced a Breeders' Cup winner.

Gus Bell, agent, signed the ticket for My White Corvette's weanling, who is by Lion Heart. Stardom Bound, the weanling's half-sister, is by Tapit.

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Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the co-owner of Denali Stud. He is Craig Bandoroff, not Drew Nardiello.