11/06/2012 4:55PM

Keeneland sale’s opening session has some big spenders, but numbers still suffer

Photos by Z/Keeneland
At $4.2 million, Plum Pretty was one of five horses to bring seven figures at the opening session of Keeneland’s November auction of breeding stock.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A day after Whisper Hill Farm owner Mandy Pope paid a world-record $10 million for Horse of the Year Havre de Grace at Fasig-Tipton’s fall selected mixed sale, she returned to action Tuesday at Keeneland, paying $4.2 million for 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty.

In 2011, major dispersals by the estates of Edward Evans and Saud bin Khaled – including Royal Delta’s $8.5 million sale – bolstered Keeneland’s November sale. Together, those dispersals accounted for more than $72 million of the 2011 gross receipts. Figures this year fell across the board, and Keeneland said the bump from last year’s dispersals was the major difference.

At Tuesday’s opening session, 100 horses sold for a total of $27,665,000, down 56.3 percent from the $63,276,500 that 147 horses brought last year. The average price fell 35.7 percent to $276,650, and the median declined 44.6 percent to $127,500. Walt Robertson, Keeneland’s vice president of sales, pointed out that, minus last year’s dispersals, the median was $165,000, which would reduce the 2012 shortfall in median to 22.7 percent.

Complete hip-by-hip results here.

Other than Pope’s big purchase, the upper market – $500,000 and above – was dominated by foreign-based farms and agents. Below the market’s summit, the market was fickle and painfully selective, consignors reported. Buy-backs rose sharply, from 17 percent last year to 30 percent, though Keeneland officials also pointed out that many of last year’s dispersal horses sold without reserve, possibly affecting the buy-back rate.

The top-priced weanling, sold immediately before Plum Pretty, was a $625,000 Galileo-Piste Noire filly that Britain’s Badgers Bloodstock bought from VanMeter Sales. Her dam is a full sister to English champion Three Valleys.

“I think we’re going home now!” Pope said after signing for Plum Pretty, who, like Havre de Grace, was consigned by Taylor Made Sales. “We’re obviously trying to upgrade our broodmare band and making some big adjustments in the quality that we have. She’s gonna be right there with Havre de Grace.”

Pope said Plum Pretty will follow Havre de Grace to Wayne and Cathy Sweezey’s Timber Town Stables on Leestown Road in Lexington, where she will be part of Pope’s new, slimmed-down breeding program.

Pope is selling some mares in November and at the upcoming Keeneland January sale, with the goal of scaling her broodmare band down from about 25 to an upgraded group of 15.

Plum Pretty was one of five horses to bring seven figures. Nicolas de Watrigant’s Mandore International Agency picked up three of those. The first was Harmonious, at $2.8 million, a dual Grade 1 winner by the late Dynaformer, whom Pam, Marty, and Emily Wygod offered as a broodmare prospect. Lane’s End consigned Harmonious.

Bidding near the pavilion’s walking ring, de Watrigant went on to buy two more Grade 1 winners: $1.6 million Shotgun Gulch and $1.25 million Negligee, the latter also a Canadian champion. Taylor Made Sales also consigned Shotgun Gulch, a 5-year-old Thunder Gulch mare in foal to Bernardini. Hunter Valley Farm, agent, sold 5-year-old Negligee, by Northern Afleet, in foal to Distorted Humor.

Mandore recently represented Joaan al-Thani of the Qatari royal family at the Tattersalls October yearling sale, but neither de Watrigant nor his colleague, Benoit Jeffroy, would disclose their client here.

“This is a good opportunity to get new bloodlines,” said Jeffroy, noting that 2012 Group 1 winners Dawn Approach and Certify were products of American mares. Dawn Approach is out of winless Hymn of the Dawn, by Phone Trick, and Certify is out of the graded-placed Doc’s Leader matron Please Sign In. But Mandore International wasn’t going for bargains. “It’s quite attractive to come here to find bloodlines to breed to our Danehill and Sadler’s Wells-line horses,” he said. “But the mares are bringing good money. They’re expensive.”

Among other foreign buyers was Japan’s Katsumi Yoshida, who bought $2.1 million Zazu from the Lane’s End consignment.

“After last night, I figured this mare was about where we’d have to be,” Pope said of Plum Pretty’s $4.2 million price tag. “There are not a lot of people here today, and we were hoping maybe we could slide in a little less money. But we got two grand racemares. Hopefully, Whisper Hill Farm is going to be making a name for themselves in a couple of years when these have their babies.”

Asked why now seemed the time to double down on long-term investment, Pope’s bloodstock adviser Chris Brothers pointed to an improving yearling market in 2011 and 2012.

“The market’s starting to slowly creep back up,” Brothers said. “So we’d rather do it now than in two years if it does hit. It’s a long-term investment, and we’re confident in what we’re buying, too.”

The November breeding stock sale continues through Nov. 16 at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington. Sessions begin 10 a.m. daily.