09/05/2002 11:00PM

Hoping for the best at Keeneland sale

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's epic September yearling sale gets underway on Monday with a changed format, about 4,300 horses, and a great deal of nervous anticipation by consignors.

The 12-day auction at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington offers 4,367 yearlings this year, down slightly from the 4,483 cataloged in 2001, but still more than enough to occupy bidders for two weeks. The sheer size of the September auction - last year 2,895 were sold for $254,190,600 in gross receipts - means that it encompasses several sets of buyers. The world's wealthiest outfits like Godolphin and Coolmore shop on the two select days that open the auction, middle-market buyers are active for the rest of that week, and more economy-minded bidders round out the sale's second week.

The sheer volume of the sale, and the various buying interests it satisfies, prompted Keeneland to conduct the sale in two pieces this year. For the first time, the September auction will run for four days, then take a dark day on Friday, Sept. 13, before resuming on Saturday, Sept. 14.

The Keeneland September sale is the nation's largest yearling marketplace and one of the most important. Its rise to prominence was completed in 2000, when perennial leading consignor Will Farish of Lane's End Farm abandoned the Keeneland July sale in favor of the September auction. Lane's End, always a powerhouse, has 47 lots cataloged for the 2002 sale's two select sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

Lane's End decided last year to sell at both July and September, but the September market remains an auction that buyers feel they must attend.

Last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shut the auction down on its second day, moments before the glittering Lane's End horses were to sell. The sale resumed on Sept. 12, but a nationwide ban on flying and fears for the country and its economy kept many buyers at home. Coming off a record level the year before, the 2001 auction saw a 13 percent drop in gross and a 7 percent decline in median to $25,000, but the average price of $87,803 was the second-highest in the sale's history. The official buyback rate of 28 percent was higher than the previous year's 23 percent.

The sale-topper was $6.4 million Van Nistelrooy, whom Demi O'Byrne bought from the Lane's End consignment; the Storm Cat-Halory colt is undefeated in three starts.

This year, sellers and sale officials have a new set of worries. After a year of economic concerns that have rocked the stock market and seen major companies like Enron brought down by scandal, the upper-level market for yearlings has fallen substantially. Godolphin and Coolmore have largely sat on their hands at the Keeneland July and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sales, and the sudden death of The Thoroughbred Corp.'s Prince Ahmed bin Salman removed a potent bidder from the ring. And, on Friday, Padua Stables representative Nadia Sanan confirmed that Padua would not be active in September, having bought several high-priced lots earlier in the summer.

High-end sellers, some of whom have held their best horses out of summer sales in favor of the September auction, are bracing for 20 percent declines, the range seen at the summer's select auctions. But if the bidders are willing, the select sellers certainly have some worthwhile pedigrees for them to fight over.

TOP PEDIGREES FOR SALE

Some of the most notable horses on sale at the Keeneland yearling sale beginning Monday:

HIP No.DESCRIPTION

33an A. P. Indy half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Marquetry

37a Wild Again half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Gourmet Girl

43a Deputy Minister colt out of Alabama Stakes winner Runup the Colors

47a Deputy Minister half-brother to Grade 1 winner Golden Missile

56a Kingmambo three-quarter-brother to fashionable sire Gone West

104a full brother to Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and popular sire

Unbridled's Song

136a Theatrical half-sister to champion Possibly Perfect

150a Silver Charm half-sister to Grade 1 winner Albert the Great

160a Saint Ballado half-brother to Breeders' Cup Distaff winner

Unbridled Elaine and Ashland Stakes winner Glitter Woman

169a full-sister to millionaire Hap and Grade 1 winner Pharma

188a half-sister to sprint champion Kona Gold

192a full sister to Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain

210a three-quarter-brother to European champion Desert Prince

241a Storm Cat colt out of champion Hidden Lake

281a Forestry half-sister to champion Smoke Glacken

340a full brother to Grade 1 winner High Yield

351a Storm Cat colt out of champion Sky Beauty

368a Red Ransom half-brother to Grade 1 winner Langfuhr

399a Storm Cat colt out of champion Windsharp

441a Tale of the Cat half-brother to champion Housebuster

465a Storm Cat colt out of millionaire Clear Mandate

507an A. P. Indy filly, first foal for champion Fiji (GB)

552a Storm Cat filly out of champion Jewel Princess

559a Forestry half-brother to Japanese champion Hishi Amazon