11/19/2009 1:00AM

At Keeneland, it wasn't all bad news

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - A sense of dread pervaded the opening of Keeneland's November breeding stock sales last week as consignors braced for terrible downturns.

There have indeed been more decreases than increases, and through Day 7 of the two-week auction the cumulative average and median were running roughly 20 to 25 percent behind last year's figures. That marked a devastating slide for some consignments, but a surprising number of auction participants said they were relieved the economic climate wasn't worse.

And even in the generally poorer economy, one could find buyers and sellers who did well. In the midst of worrying economic times, their successes provided rays of hope.

Consider Morgan's Ford Farm's small consignment. Virginia breeders Susie and Wayne Chatfield-Taylor offered seven horses, and their first two through the ring brought healthy profits. Their broodmare Coquihalla, in foal to Medaglia d'Oro, sold for $310,000; they paid $40,000 for her at this sale last year. And their weanling Indian Charlie-Never a No Hitter colt brought $200,000; they spent $27,000 for his dam in 2005.

The rest of the Morgan's Ford horses, all weanlings, sold for between $28,000 and $90,000, including one buyout of a partner. The consignment wrapped up with an average sale price of $107,714.

"I think this has been a sale full of willing sellers and eager buyers," Wayne Chatfield-Taylor said. "It's been very much a surprise to many people."

To survive the downturn, luck helps - Coquihalla and Never a No Hitter both had big pedigree updates since Morgan's Ford bought them. Disciplined research and sticking to the fundamentals are also keys to success, Chatfield-Taylor said.

"The problem with a very expensive stud fee is you can't wait to get out from under it, and you're almost forced to sell," he said. "If you breed more conservatively and try to breed a racehorse, almost forgetting the sale aspect, that's what you'll be remembered for.

"We have this agenda of stalking certain families, some for 20 years or longer. They're from proven breeders, and we've researched them, and we feel they're going to hit again. Research has a lot to do with this."

Braxton and Damian Lynch's Royal Oak consignment had offered nine horses as of Monday; one failed to reach its reserve. Thanks partly to a big score with the $380,000 mare Vienna Affair, the consignment averaged $144,000.

"We've had a great sale," Braxton Lynch said. "As is always the case, if you have horses that are above the bar, you come out a little ahead of horses that are below the bar. We're lucky that there are a lot of people whose primary business is to buy and sell horses, as opposed to those whose are buying to race. The yearling sales are based on people with disposable income: If they have extra money, they buy a racehorse. At the breeding stock sales, buyers are here because if they don't buy, they can't sell."

Generally, lower prices presented opportunities for buyers such as veterinarian and agent Guy Khoury, who was buying for Mammad Mirza Huseynov's new Royal Pegasus Farm. On his account, Khoury had bought 19 horses of various ages for an average price of $54,789. His most expensive buys were the Overbrook mares Quick Arrival ($125,000) and Star Attraction ($100,000) and the graded-placed mare Her She Kisses ($100,000). Even those looked like bargains to Khoury.

"I think we got some mares for a very good deal," Khoury said. "We got the mares from Overbrook Farm by Storm Cat and mares by Giant's Causeway, Awesome Again, and Smart Strike. Very good mares with the most important thing: good bloodlines."

Huseynov, who is from Azerbaijan, said his main goal is to upgrade his Kentucky bloodstock, although some of his horses might head to Azerbaijan to run.

"Our main goal is breeding for racing," Khoury said. "We came to Keeneland to buy good broodmares, because it's a good time to upgrade. It's a good time to get good mares for good prices."

The flip side to a buyer's market is that sellers can suffer. And even November's happier sellers, such as Braxton Lynch, say times are still hard for Thoroughbred breeders.

"Believe me, we're having a good sale now, but that doesn't mean we've had good sales over the last three to four years," said Lynch. "We're lucky to have nice horses at a moment when they're fighting over them, and there aren't that many of them, and the pinhookers are back with a little money.

"I still have trepidation about the full cycle of the Thoroughbred market. The November sale isn't good for everybody. Just because there are strong spots doesn't always equate to continued strength in 10 months when you start selling yearlings. We still have a lot of issues to fix, like increasing the number of buyers at the yearling sales. That should be the primary focus of everybody in our industry: how to get more people involved in racing and more buyers at the yearling sales. Keeneland has done a good job putting together a broader buying base, and that's giving us a shot in the arm."