04/17/2007 11:00PM

Keeneland sale gives economics lesson

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland April 2-year-old sale on Tuesday wrapped up the major juvenile auction season with mixed results that illustrate the risks of selling into today's 2-year-old market.

The one-day sale rang up its highest price ever for a filly when the sale-topping Mineshaft-Stylish Talent filly brought $1.75 million from buyer B. Wayne Hughes. But it was tough going for many sellers, as indicated by the 47-percent buy-back rate. Other sellers simply withdrew horses they thought wouldn't reach their reserves.

Even so, the presale withdrawal rate of 27 percent and the end-of-sale withdrawal rate of 32 percent were below the 34 percent the auction saw by the end of its 2006 edition.

Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, was unhappy about the high rate of outs and buy-backs. But in a view echoed by many Keeneland consignors, he noted that market polarization, in which top horses bring seven-figure prices while many fall through the cracks, is a trend and not a one-sale aberration.

"It's the dynamic of the 2-year-old market," he said after the auction. "It's the highest-risk, highest-reward market."

The sale was the first juvenile auction to conduct its under-tack shows on a synthetic Polytrack racing surface, and the resulting fast times, Russell felt, might have been a double-edged sword for sellers.

"Maybe expectations were higher because the times were faster," he said. "When you have great previews, your expectations go up."

The previews on Polytrack generated unusually fast eighth-mile and quarter-mile times, but the sale results indicated that buyers were looking for more than just speed in their racing prospects, as even good workers did not always bring high six-figure prices.

What high-level buyers want was evident in comments made by Jerry Frankel, who purchased a pair of colts for a combined $705,000. After signing for the more expensive one, a $525,000 son of Hussonet and Reina Victoriosa who went an eighth in 10 seconds on April 9, Frankel focused on the horse's pedigree.

" I liked that the dam is a full sister to probably the best horse in the world," Frankel said, referring to the fact that Reina Victoriosa, an Argentine Grade 1 winner, is a full sister to Invasor's dam, Quendom. Frankel said he also understood that Hussonet - a son of Mr. Prospector and Sacahuista currently standing in Australia - has sired about 15 percent stakes winners in Chile, which also entered into his calculations. And the colt himself is a half-brother to two stakes winners, More Than Regal and Ready Ruler.

B. Wayne Hughes, buyer of the sale-topping filly, was clearly impressed with her April 9 workout on the Polytrack. She equaled a world-record preview time of 9.60 seconds for an eighth-mile in that breeze. But he, too, counted pedigree as an important factor in his decision to bid high.

"It was more than I thought, about $500,000 more," he said of the price, adding that, in addition to the filly's "powerful" breeze, he liked that she was by Mineshaft and out of a Grade 1-placed stakes winner.

In an effort to satisfy such big buyers, yearling-to-juvenile resellers often had to spend more in 2006's booming yearling market.

"A lot of consignors stepped up last year and were reaching a little higher up in the tree," said Tom Thornberry, an assistant sale director. "Sometimes that doesn't convert."

Polytrack workouts might not have been the only factor in buyers' calculations, but most said they were glad to see synthetic surfaces coming into use. In at least one horseman's view, synthetic tracks may ultimately widen the international bloodstock market as more tracks around the world begin to use them.

"I think Polytrack is going to transform racing," said Rollin Baugh, a California-based bloodstock agent who represents clients in North America and overseas. "It's potentially going to make the international movement of horses easier."

Baugh said that the spread of synthetic racetracks internationally could make more pedigrees and individual horses attractive to overseas buyers.

"In Japan, they are anticipating installation of a synthetic surface at one of their training tracks," added Baugh, a self-professed Polytrack fan. "How quickly it follows at racetracks we can't say, but I know what trainers will say after they train their horses over it."

Seeking dismissal of lawsuit

Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency's bloodstock director, Donato Lanni, has filed a motion in a Texas federal court seeking dismissal from a lawsuit brought last September by Thoroughbred owner James McIngvale, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Wednesday.

Lanni and Hill 'n' Dale were among a number of consignors added to McIngvale's lawsuit against his former agents Kevin and J.B. McKathan. Hill 'n' Dale also is seeking dismissal from the case. Lanni's motion asserts that the Texas court does not have jurisdiction over sales in Kentucky. Another consignor, Eaton Sales Agent, was dismissed from the case in March.

* The Internal Revenue Service has granted the Our Mims Retirement Haven, an equine retirement facility near Lexington, Ky., 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. The operation, named after 1977 champion 3-year-old Our Mims, who died at the farm in 2003, specializes in rescuing and caring for aged mares. It is located in Paris, Ky.