07/17/2007 11:00PM

July sale sees a drop after record year

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Fasig-Tipton Kentucky's July sale got the yearling auction season off to a workmanlike start, with prices that were neither spectacular nor cheap, but whether the rest of the yearling sales will follow suit is an open question.

The two-day auction sold 354 horses for $36,441,000, up 2 percent from last season, when 307 horses sold. Average price declined 11 percent, dropping from $115,954 to $102,941, and median also slipped 11 percent, falling from $90,000 to $80,000. The buyback rate increased from 25 percent in 2006 to 32 percent in 2007.

Before the two-day auction, which ended Tuesday evening, Fasig-Tipton officials and consignors had insisted that this sale is unlike the upcoming Saratoga, Keeneland September, and Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. August auctions, for example, and that the results here might not translate to the market in general. One reason for that, according to Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson, is that this year's July catalog had an unusually large number of yearlings by unproven sires. Another is that the sale was coming off a record season in 2006, which featured a $1.2 million Forestry colt and a $760,000 Pulpit colt. This year's sale, by contrast, produced a $450,000 sale topper, a Malibu Moon colt that Mace and Samantha Siegel purchased from Clarkland Farm.

Fasig-Tipton's chief operating officer, Boyd Browning, called the two high prices in 2006 "aberrations" and asserted that the 2007 sale's downturns "absolutely, positively are not due to the market" declining. But he did acknowledge that the demand for yearlings didn't keep pace with the 2007 sale's larger catalog, meaning roughly the same amount of money got spread more thinly this season.

Older mare produces a winner for Clarkland

Clarkland's $450,000 colt reversed some conventional wisdom when he topped the sale. The yearling market recently has penalized older dams, but that didn't seem to matter when bidding took off for Hip No. 450, a strapping bay Malibu Moon colt out of 19-year-old Royal Veagess.

The Rock Royalty mare was a hard-knocking multiple stakes winner who earned $281,033 in her racing career. She was 16 when Clarkland's owners, Fred and Nancy Mitchell, spotted her at Keeneland's 2004 November sale.

"She was an older mare who had already proven she could produce a stakes winner," Fred Mitchell said, noting that Royal Veagess also is the dam of Grade 2 winner Skipping Around and two other stakes-placed runners. "And she was in foal to Forest Camp, a nice horse who was unproven at the time.

"Nancy and I just fell in love with her."

The mare's age might have been a drawback for some buyers, but the Mitchells found it an advantage for her purchase price, if nothing else.

"We couldn't touch a young mare at that sale," Fred Mitchell said.

The Mitchells bought Royal Veagess for $72,000. The mare's Forest Camp colt - now named Badger Bret - brought $100,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale, and now her Malibu Moon colt has topped Fasig-Tipton July.

Small operation hunts for buy-back bargains

Small consignors Jim and Karen Perrone proved you don't have to be corporation-sized to have a little success at auction. The Perrones brought the sale's only Smarty Jones yearling, a filly out of Must Be a Lady, whom they sold for $150,000. They also sold an Alke-Heart of the Bull colt for $52,000.

At their 10-acre Sunset Farm in Midland, N.C., the Perrones focus on weanling-to-yearling pinhooking. They sold some horses in the 1990s but got into the horse business full time after Jim Perrone sold his intellectual property investigations business about 10 years ago.

"We used to breed, but because we're in North Carolina, for about five months out of the year the mares were living somewhere else," Jim Perrone said. "We got tired of toting them up and down the road. We sold our last mare in October of 2005."

Perrone conceded that small operations have to work to compete. But it is possible. By scouring the ranks of horses who fail to reach their reserves as weanlings, as the Smarty Jones yearling filly did, the Perrones have been able to hit home runs.

"Last year we sold a $300,000 Forestry colt at Keeneland," Perrone said. "He hadn't sold at $130,000 the year before, and we bought him privately for $100,000.

"If we can make enough money to do this again next year, we're happy," he said.

Wildcat Heir heads to Journeyman Stud

Grade 1 winner Wildcat Heir is the latest stallion to make the move from the former CloverLeaf Farms II operation to Journeyman Stud, a new stallion farm opened by CloverLeaf's former manager Brent Fernung.

"We really appreciate the job that John Sykes and Brent did under the CloverLeaf banner, and we are looking forward to the continued management of Wildcat Heir under Brent's care," said Byron Rogers of Taylor Made, which owns the 7-year-old Forest Wildcat horse with WinStar Farm and New Farm.

Sykes owned CloverLeaf but closed the farm earlier this month when he moved his mare band to Kentucky.

Wildcat Heir's first weanlings arrive at auction this fall. He stood for $8,000 this year, but his 2008 fee has not been announced.