04/15/2003 11:00PM

Juvenile sale brings record gross

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's April 2-year-old sale produced a record gross and its second-highest average Tuesday, a sign that racehorse buyers are feeling confident about their chances to make money in purses.

The gross of $21,440,000 for 128 horses sold during the one-day sale breezed easily past 1999's previous record of $18,560,000 for 123 lots.

A $950,000 colt from the first crop of Menifee was the day's top lot. That was well below the sale-record $2 million set in 1999 for LaSalle Street, but it was high enough to illustrate the general strength of the Keeneland market. Bidding was strong at most levels, with sellers letting horses go for prices that ranged from $20,000 to $950,000. As a result, the buyback rate fell from last year's 43 percent to a relatively low 35 percent.

This year's average price was $167,500, second only to the 2002 record of $174,015. But median fell sharply, 23 percent, from $127,500 last year to $98,500 in 2003.

J. B. McKathan signed for the sale-topping Menifee colt, a son of the Carson City mare Pacific City.

Murray Smith sold the colt. Smith, a Florida-based pinhooker, had bought the Menifee colt for just $42,000 at Fasig-Tipton's July yearling sale last year. His resale at Keeneland was enough to make Smith the auction's leading seller by average price, with just one horse. Niall Brennan, agent, led all sellers by gross, with 13 sold for a total of $3,177,000 and an average of $244,384.

Bob and Beverly Lewis, represented by trainer D. Wayne Lukas and agent John Moynihan, were the sale's leading buyers by gross expenditures. They took home four lots for $2,475,000, spending an average of $618,750 per horse to stock their powerful racing stable.

An $875,000 Unbridled's Song colt, the auction's second-highest price, was the Lewises' most expensive purchase. Bidding for the colt opened at $500,000, and in the long silence that followed, it looked like that bidder - trainer Bruce Headley - might actually get the colt on a single bid. But Moynihan and Lukas picked up the action and eventually got to sign the receipt.

"That $500,000 bid might have scared off some bidders, but it didn't scare us," Moynihan said later. "I was just letting everyone think about it for a minute. I wanted to see who else was going to play on this horse."

Becky Thomas's Sequel Bloodstock agency sold the Unbridled's Song colt, who is out of Belonging (by Exclusive Native) and is therefore a half-brother to popular sire Belong to Me. He was first offered at auction at the 2002 Keeneland September yearling sale, where he failed to reach his reserve at $240,000; Thomas picked him up a month later at Keeneland's now-defunct October yearling sale for $150,000.