01/17/2009 1:00AM

Keeneland sale average down 48 percent


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's January all-ages sale ended Saturday with steep drops across the board but a moderate 22 percent buy-back rate.

The buy-back rate signaled that many consignors had accepted the current economic downturn in bloodstock prices rather than keep stock on their payroll. But a high number of withdrawals at the six-day sale also indicated that some were willing to wait out the slumping market in hopes there will be a turnaround soon.

The sale ended late Saturday afternoon after selling 1,338 horses for $32,824,000, down 53 percent from last season's gross for 1,493 horses. The 2009 cumulative average was $24,532, down 48 percent from $47,184 last year, and the median of $9,500 represented a drop of 44 percent from 2008's figure of $17,000.

The 2009 buy-back rate was an improvement from last season's 24 percent.

"I think it met what people expected it to be, to be honest," said Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell. "People went in thinking it would be a continuation of November, and it was."

International bloodstock markets have fallen drastically since the economic crisis hit with its full force in late September, sparking double-digit losses along the lines of those seen at the Keeneland January auction. But Russell saw a bright spot in the low buy-back figure and the fact that there were ready bidders on the grounds to take advantage of the generally lower prices.

"The consignors and the owners did a very good job of appraising these horses at the right amount, and we had good trade all the way," he said.

The 2009 sale had no million-dollar horses, though it did have a $4.4 million buy-back when 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, carrying a foal by 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, failed to reach the reserve set by Michael Paulson.

The sale toppers were a pair of $950,000 mares, Island Fashion and Almonsoon.

Everest Stables (Crestwood Farm, agent) sold Grade 1 winner Island Fashion, also in foal to Ghostzapper, to Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm.

Hill 'n' Dale Sales, acting as agent for Paulson-managed Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, consigned Almonsoon. They offered the mare as a racing or breeding prospect, and Southern Equine Stables was the buyer.