11/04/2008 12:00AM

Hystericalady fetches $3 million

Photos By Z/Keeneland
Hystericalady sold for $3 million to Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Grade 1 winner and $2.2 million earner Hystericalady ended her run for owners George Todaro, Tom Clark, and Jerry Hollendorfer not on the racetrack but in the auction ring, bringing $3 million Monday at the Keeneland November mixed sale's opening day.

John Ferguson purchased Hystericalady, the most expensive horse of the day as of 5:30 p.m., on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum. Taylor Made, agent, consigned the mare, one of 11 horses to bring $1 million or more by that point in an atmosphere middle-market consignors ruefully described as more famine than feast.

Hystericalady, a 5-year-old Distorted Humor mare, went through the ring as an exceptional racing or broodmare prospect, leaving her buyer an option to race. But Ferguson said it was "unlikely" Maktoum would elect to run her again, even though trainer Hollendorfer assured him after the hammer fell that the mare is entirely sound. The chestnut daughter of Chilean champion Sacramentada came to the sale off a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic and hit a rare home run in the market.

Todaro called the sale bittersweet but said the partners were sticking to their plan to let their prize mare go.

"She's 5, and even though she's sound, after that it sort of goes downhill in terms of her price as a broodmare prospect," said Todaro, who termed the final price "fair" but not extravagant. "Obviously, you hope for a bidding war, but it didn't really happen. So we're satisfied."

"We're satisfied," Clark agreed. "For a mare we paid $125,000 for, you have to be very satisfied."

Maktoum and a variety of high-end buyers cherry-picked Monday's catalog and produced a smattering of flashy prices between $2 million and $3 million.

Other high prices Monday included $2.5 million for Away, carrying a full sibling to Eight Belles, whom Maktoum bought from Three Chimneys, agent; $2.3 million Shadow Cast, a Grade 1 winner in foal to Bernardini, another Ferguson purchase from the Lane's End agency; and $1.5 million for Apasionata Sonata, carrying a full sibling to Bsharpsonata, whom King Abdullah bought from the Taylor Made agency.

But as buybacks accumulated in the $85,000 to $600,000 range, industry professionals were deeply alarmed at the message the market appeared to be sending: November buyers, the industry's breeders and weanling-to-juvenile resellers who buy to restock for future sales, seem to expect breeding and selling horses to get harder, not easier, in the next 12 months. As a result, they were hesitant to spend much for horses they didn't believe had obvious and immediate upside.

"For guys that are solid, cash guys that can afford to buy and wait, they're going to be okay," bloodstock agent John Gasper said. "But if you're talking about pinhooking or breeding, and you're working on credit . . ."

Credit, of course, is in famously short supply, tightening budgets for breeders and resellers. That put a pall on horses with long-term payoff horizons, like mares whose foals won't be born until at least January and sold until at least the following November, or weanling resale prospects for the 2009 yearling market, which, after all, might be down just as 2008 was. On the other hand, horses with the prospect of short-term rewards, such as the Keeneland November sale's growing race-ready market, were getting a boost, Gasper said.

"With the racehorses, provided they're sound, you can run them right back and have a chance to get some of your money, if not all of your money, and still have your horse," he said. "It's not six months to the next sale or anything like that. There's still risk involved, but sound racehorses that have a chance to earn, those are going to make good money at a sale like this. And you can't buy those horses privately right now at the racetrack if they're running well or winning; their prices are astronomical."

Not all breeders were pulling in their horns. Those with cash planned to exploit the market's soft spots wherever possible and collect quality horses that looked likely to turn a profit in a better future economy. Among those breeders still looking to make long-term investments in Thoroughbreds was Hystericalady's former co-owner, Tom Clark. Clark owns Rancho San Miguel in California and he said he would likely plow some of their Hystericalady profits back into bloodstock.

"I've grown up in the racing game," he said. "My grandfather trained, and my father owned horses, so this is my world, and I'll continue to invest in the industry. We see this as an opportunity now, with the economy slowing, to pick up some very high-quality mares at reasonable prices that we wouldn't have been able to get before. So we're here to buy, as well as to sell."

For others, the global economic crisis was creating a financial headwind that prevented them from bidding as aggressively as they had even a year ago.

"The pound was $2.07 a year ago and now it's $1.58," bloodstock agent Dan Kenny said. "The Canadian buyers, their dollar was practically on par last year, and now it's at about 78 cents. It's an obstacle for them."

Given market conditions, some sellers who did not have to sell - like the Lane's End agency client who bought back Takesmybreathawaay, carrying a three-quarter sibling to Grade 1 winner Frost Giant, for $2.4 million - opted to keep their most precious inventory in hopes that the market would improve.

"Some of our clients aren't taking their horses through the ring this year, because they don't feel this is representative of the whole Thoroughbred marketplace," said Kerry Cauthen of Four Star Sales. "They think this is temporary dip in the market."

"I hope they're right," muttered another seller, on hearing that assessment. "I sure hope they're right."

The Keeneland November mixed sale, which cataloged a record 5,709 horses this year, was scheduled to continue through Nov. 17. Sessions begin 10 a.m. daily at Keeneland.