04/08/2011 1:11PM

Keeneland enters April select juvenile sale cautiously optimistic

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – So far, 2011’s select juvenile sales have been a mixed bag in terms of their financial results, but there has been just enough positive news to make sales executives believe the market has leveled off after deep losses since the 2008 collapse.

At Keeneland, which hosts its one-session April juvenile auction on Monday, sale director Geoffrey Russell said he was cheered by the performance of the season’s two most recent sales, the Barretts and Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March auctions. Barretts produced gains of 11 and 7 percent, respectively, in average and median price while reducing its buyback rate to 24 percent. OBS, which combined two sales this year, saw average drop less than 1 percent, though median was off by 7 percent; it, too, saw buybacks drop to 24 percent. An earlier auction, Fasig-Tipton’s February Florida sale at Palm Meadows, had a 15 percent decline in gross and a 5-percent loss in average, but its median held level with 2010.

“The sales in March definitely added some stability to the market and actually gave us a little upswing,” Russell said, “so we hope that will continue through our sale.”

If the market is sending a message to sellers, right now that seems to be that quality still sells best. The key to juvenile auctions today is to have a broad buyer base, and for horses to perform well at under-tack shows, Russell said. But even for an auction’s top prospects, buyers are being far more conservative in bidding than they were just a few years ago.

“It’s a discretionary income world that we live in at the moment, so I think people are very conservative,” Russell said, but added that he believes buyers can find high-quality runners at relatively low prices, even in a smaller catalog – an incentive for selective buyers to look beyond the top few catalog pages. “Haynesfield is a prime example,” he said, referring to a 2008 Keeneland April graduate who won last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup; he now has more than $1.1 million in earnings.

“We always hope for an uptick,” Russell said of his market expectations. “Based on the last couple of sales, I would hope for a little uptick. And if it stays the same I’ll be just content.”

Keeneland considers it an advantage that it can hold its sale while its prestigious spring race meet is on. Russell said the company’s auction wing is making the most of what he called “the synergy between racing and sales” to inspire buyers (and potential buyers) to step into ownership through buying the April auction’s ready-to-race stock.

As of Friday, two consignors also were planning to take advantage of the nearby Keeneland races to market their horses. Kevin and J. B. McKathan and Danny Pate’s Solitary Oak Farm both entered sale fillies in Keeneland’s second race on Saturday. The pair, Tiz Terrific (by Tiznow) and Grace Abounds (by Stormy Atlantic), are in the catalog as Hip No. 73 and Hip No. 127, respectively.

This year’s April catalog has some particularly nice pedigrees, headed by a full brothers to two-time Horse of the Year Curlin (Hip No. 62) and 2007 turf champion and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner English Channel (102).

Other standout pedigrees include a half-sister to millionaire Naughty New Yorker (Hip No. 33), a War Front half-brother to Laragh (53), a full brother to Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed (83), a three-quarter-brother to Eddington (139), an Empire Maker half-brother to Dreams Gallore (141), a full sister to Malibu Mint (163), a Medaglia d’Oro half-sister to Sway Away (59), and a half-sister to Dancinginherdreams (18), among others.

There are more than a dozen freshman sires with juveniles in the catalog. Hard Spun has the most, with nine, including half-sisters to Sharp Humor (101) and Montgomery’s Arch (162) and a half-sister to A. P. Warrior’s dam, Warrior Queen (112). Other freshmen with Grade 1-winning or Grade 1-placed connections are Discreet Cat, whose Hip No. 152 is a half-brother to Monba, and Corinthian, sire of a half-sister to High Limit (167).

Street Sense’s six feature a colt from the family of Cigar (93), a half-brother to Wiseman’s Ferry (136), and a colt out of Grade 1-placed Good Student. His get also made an impression at the April 7 under-tack show when a pair of them, the son of Good Student and a daughter of Gwinnett (150), posted the co-fastest eighth-mile time of 9.8 seconds.

Two more established sires also sired horses who equaled the 9.8-second time: City Place’s son of Bourbon Night (107) and Broken Vow’s son of Fashion Girl (138).

The son of another freshman sire, Hat Trick, had the co-fastest quarter-mile time, 20.8 seconds. That was Hip No. 119, out of Chiming Dixie. He shared bullet-work honors with Hip No. 122, an Empire Maker colt out of Cosmic Wish; both juveniles’ dams, incidentally, are by Dixieland Band.

The April sale also will auction one of the last Storm Cats. The venerable and influential sire, pensioned in 2008, had just three foals in his final crop. One of them, a son of Grade 1-winning millionaire Halo America, sells as Hip No. 151. He went through the ring last at the 2010 Keeneland September sale, fetching a $320,000 bid from Kaleem Shah.

The sale will take place at 4 p.m. Monday in Keeneland’s sale pavilion.