11/06/2002 12:00AM

Keeneland sale strong - for a day 3

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland November mixed sale rolled into its third of 10 sessions on Wednesday with an early top price of $500,000 for the mare Smokey Mirage.

Audley Farm acquired the Prairie Gold Lassie Stakes winner, who is in foal to Giant's Causeway. Taylor Made Sales, agent, sold Smokey Mirage. She is a daughter of Holy Bull and the Grade 1-placed Slewpy mare Verbasle.

The third session traditionally sees a drop in prices at the November auction, and Wednesday's prices, though strong for the day's best-quality stock, were not up to the standard set on Keeneland's opening two days.

On Tuesday, the auction's second session wrapped up with declines in gross receipts and average price, but that didn't detract from Keeneland officials' satisfaction with a generally good market, especially for mares.

The Tuesday session sold 182 lots for gross receipts of $53,008,000, down 7 percent from last year's second session, when 179 head sold. The average price declined 9 percent, from $319,374 to $219,253. But the median climbed 2 percent to $162,500.

The session-topper, and almost certainly the sale-topper, was Bless, a $4 million full sister to 2000 Kentucky Derby winner and first-crop sire Fusaichi Pegasus. David Plummer's ClassicStar partnership bought the mare from Arthur Hancock III and Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable. Bless sold in foal to Storm Cat.

The top of the market proved strong on Tuesday, as it had on Monday's opening day, and produced nine lots at $1 million or more.

The sale has received a substantial boost from relatively new players who have spent lavishly for broodmares. Through Tuesday, Plummer was the auction's leading buyer by average purchase price with $691,521.

Plummer was the second-leading buyer by total expenditures. Klaus Jacobs's Newsells Park Stud, based in England, led all buyers with 24 purchases totaling $15,945,000. Plummer's ClassicStar had bought 23 for $15,905,000 in the same two-day time frame.

Big spender sees buyers' market

Is it really cost-effective to spend more than $690,000, on average, for a broodmare? Plummer thinks so. Although he says he has been in the Thoroughbred business since 1974, Plummer has hit the auction world's radar screen in a big way this week with purchases totaling about $20 million between the Nov. 3 Fasig-Tipton mixed sale and the first two sessions at Keeneland on Monday and Tuesday.

"We're jumping up dramatically in terms of the quality we're buying, there's no question," Plummer said at Keeneland. "But I believe in this industry, and I believe this industry is strong.

"We think all the money is made on the buying end," Plummer said of his high-priced purchases, "in buying horses that have potential to be worth more in the future. And we think this is an excellent time to buy. I see the handle going up and a shortage of racehorses at the track.

"If the market were crazy high, it wouldn't be a good time to buy, but we're positive that the top end of the market will stay strong.

"If you look at the yearling sales, the top end of the market only came down a couple of percentiles, and the market for the $400,000 to $600,000 horses was still very strong. We believe that most of the mares we've purchased will produce foals that can sell in the $400,000 to $600,000 range, where we didn't see that huge crash. That's where we can make our money."

Plummer said ClassicStar intends to raise about 80 foals a year, selling colts and keeping fillies to build its broodmare band. Plummer has sunk ClassicStar money in more than horseflesh, too: The partnership bought the former Kenirey Stud property near Versailles, Ky., from Three Chimneys earlier this year. Plummer said ClassicStar has renovated the 300-acre property and plans to keep its mares there.

"We have 42 horses in training today," Plummer said, "and after selling yearlings that should still give us about 10 or 20 to put in the racing stable each year."

Kalookan Queen out of De Francis

Kalookan Queen, whom Don Adam's Courtlandt Farm bought Monday for $1.85 million, will not contest the Grade 1 Frank De Francis Dash on Nov. 16.

Adam announced immediately after purchasing the Grade 1 winner that she would be retired to join his broodmare band. But within the hour, Adam and his advisor Ken Carson had gotten a call from Maryland Jockey Club representative David Rollinson, who alerted them that Kalookan Queen was among the De Francis Dash nominees, a fact the buyers hadn't known.

Adam and Carson consulted with Kalookan Queen's trainer, Bruce Headley, who advised them against running. Headley's concern: missed training days while Kalookan Queen, a 6-year-old Lost Code mare, was at Keeneland.

Coolmore announces 2003 fees

Coolmore Stud has announced the 2003 stud fees for stallions at its headquarters in County Tipperary, Ireland.

Sadler's Wells, the global operation's flagship stallion, has a private fee. Among published fees, European champion Galileo has the highest advertised fee at 60,000 euros, or about $60,036.

Rock of Gibraltar, who is expected to stand at Coolmore in 2003, has not yet had his fee set.