01/15/2008 1:00AM

Keeneland sale posts increases


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's January all-ages auction ended Sunday with a double-digit gains in average and a record median.

The auction's seven sessions sold 1,493 horses for $70,446,000, a decline of 3 percent from the record gross in 2007, when the sale was one day longer. The average increased 21 percent, from $39,134 last year to $47,184. The median gained 13 percent to hit a record $17,000, up from $15,000 in 2007.

The buy-back rate ticked upward slightly, rising from 23 percent in 2007 to 24 percent in 2008.

The sale-topper was $2.7 million Irish Cherry, the dam of Grade 1 winners Spun Sugar and Daaher, who sold on opening day, Jan. 7. Southern Equine Stables purchased the Irish Open mare in foal to Ghostzapper. The Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, agent, sold Irish Cherry. The mare was one of four horses to sell for $1 million or more.

The sale's highest-priced yearling was a $475,000 Saint Liam colt out of Ministrada, by Deputy Minister. Robert E. Courtney's Crestfield Farm, agent, offering its last consignment after Courtney's six decades in the Thoroughbred auction business, sold the colt to Tom Van Meter.

After the sale, Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell remained cautious about the state of the Thoroughbred market, which he has warned is seeing the effects of oversupply.

"Make no mistake, record sales last year were built on the weakness of the U.S. dollar, which drove foreign spending," he said. "If not for that, we would have experienced a major market correction. One only need look at the recent downturn in European sales, which did not have the benefit of the favorable exchange rate. It will happen here, too, unless breeders make some hard decisions."

Bernardini tops first-year sires

First-year sires are always of interest at the Keeneland January auction. According to data supplied by SireAverages.com, the top first-year covering sire by average price at the auction was Bernardini, who reached the top by virtue of his sole mare bringing $525,000. Completing the list of top five first-year covering sires were First Samurai, whose four mares averaged $311,250; Bluegrass Cat, with nine averaging $230,000; Henny Hughes, with five averaging $145,000; and Rockport Harbor, with two averaging $85,000.

Keeneland January also marked the debut of some stallions' first yearlings. Among those sires, the leader by average price was Ghostzapper, whose single filly brought $300,000. Rounding out the top five were Saint Liam, with three averaging $256,667; Afleet Alex, with four averaging $107,500; Eddington, with three averaging $46,667; and Leroidesanimaux, with two averaging $46,000.

Park Avenue Ball to stand in N.J.

Multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire Park Avenue Ball, who retired in December after four seasons at the racetrack, will enter stud this year at Sam Fieramosca's Colonial Farm in Colts Neck, N.J. The 6-year-old Citidancer horse will stand for $3,500.

Park Avenue Ball won 7 of his 25 lifetime starts, including six stakes victories. His best graded victory came in the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes at Belmont in 2004, but he also captured Monmouth's Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes and Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap, both Grade 3 events, in 2005 and 2006, respectively. He also placed in six graded stakes, most notably in the 2005 Haskell, in which he finished third behind Roman Ruler and Sun King.

Park Avenue Ball raced for his breeders, Marianne and the late Charles Hesse's Char-Mari Stable. He is out of the Cahill Road winner Road to the Ball and is a half-brother to the winner Slay Ride.

* The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. will host its winter mixed sale in Ocala, Fla., beginning Wednesday in the OBS pavilion. The three-day auction will consist of a single consignor-preferred session Wednesday, followed by open sessions Thursday and Friday. All sessions start at 11 a.m. The sale catalog features 948 horses, with 248 of those scheduled to sell in the consignor-preferred session. Live audio and video of the auction is available at the OBS website, www.obssales.com.

* Ro Parra's Millennium Farms in Lexington has hired Brian Lyle as sales manager. Lyle most recently worked as director of customer service at Drew Nardiello's Chesapeake Farm in Lexington. He previously worked at Taylor Made Farm and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. At Millennium, Lyle will handle all stallion bookings, coordinate Millennium's auction consignment business with farm manager Bobby Miller, and work with business manager J. Ted Neel to promote membership in the farm's new Millennium Rewards program, an incentive program designed to reward breeders who are loyal to the farm's stallions.