04/19/2005 11:00PM

Keeneland juvenile auction ends with major declines

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Hip No. 39, a Maria's Mon colt, was purchased for $800,000 by John Oxley.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's April 2-year-old auction ended Tuesday night with losses across the board, closing out the season's major select juvenile sales on a glum note.

The one-day auction sold 105 lots for $17,040,500, down from last year's $22,012,000 for 101 horses. Average price fell 26 percent, dropping from $217,941 to $162,290. Median fell from $135,000 last year to $130,000. Buybacks, which were running at 50 percent midway through the sale, settled at 40 percent by the auction's close, an improvement over last year's 45 percent. But 86 horses were scratched from the sale, as compared to 75 last season.

The decreases surprised auction officials and sellers alike. Despite two good preview days and a catalog that got compliments from buyers, Keeneland's market ceiling was well below $1 million. The sale-topper was an $800,000 Maria's Mon colt that John Oxley bought from Murray Smith. The colt is by the same sire as Oxley's 2001 Kentucky Derby winner, Monarchos.

After that, it was a long drop to the day's second-highest price of $500,000. Two lots, a Danzig colt and a Mr. Greeley filly, brought that price. Hip No. 82, a Danzig son of Nuts in May (by A. P. Indy), went to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum's Shadwell Farm from consignor Robert Scanlon, agent. The colt is from the family of Breeders' Cup Classic winner and $7,789,880 earner Pleasantly Perfect.

The $500,000 filly, sold by agent Eddie Woods to the Yoshida family's Shadai Farm, is the first foal out of Sky Crown (Sky Classic).

Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell described himself as "shocked and a little disappointed" by the auction results.

"I felt we had compiled a very strong catalog, both in pedigree and physicals, and that was backed up by the comments of the people here," he said.

Sellers generally agreed with that assessment, and some market participants wondered whether increased buyer selectivity was making it harder for sellers to meet the standard. "People aren't looking for diamonds in the rough anymore at 2-year-old sales," said bloodstock agent Larry Ensor. "They're looking for diamonds."

Russell compared the drop in returns to a similar market correction at the 1997 auction and pointed out that the graduates from that sale went on to run well.

"I have great confidence in the horses in this sale and think they will go on to perform well on the racetrack," he said, adding, "Our job now will be to go out and recruit more buyers."