11/02/2001 12:00AM

Keeneland sale weather vane of industry health

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Kentucky's November breeding stock sales, an important gauge of breeders' confidence in the industry's long-term prospects, will start under several clouds this year.

Mares and weanlings will come to market amid economic uncertainty, due to a slowing economy that was blown further off center by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent military strikes in Afghanistan.

There also may be lingering doubts surrounding mare reproductive loss syndrome, the mysterious disease that swept through central Kentucky farms this spring, causing thousands of early- and late-term abortions in Kentucky broodmares. Veterinarians have reported that mares who remain pregnant seem largely unaffected by any syndrome-related problems. But as one buying agent put it, MRLS may dampen buyers' traditional enthusiasm for any mares pregnant on early cover dates, when the pathogen appeared to be active.

Sellers at Fasig-Tipton on Nov. 4 and at Keeneland on Nov. 5-15 will be keenly interested in how these elements affect incoming buyers.

In November, breeders buy from breeders, purchasing weanlings to pinhook at 2002 yearling auctions or buying broodmares to breed future sales and racing stock. Not surprisingly, the yearling market's performance can substantially influence what happens when breeders shop for new mares.

In recent years, a weakening middle-market has widened the gap between home runs and buybacks. More lower- to middle-market producers, the people who breed and sell yearlings in the $25,000 to $200,000 range, came home with less money than they wanted or needed, as a few wealthy - and finicky - buyers focused on the $1 million cream puffs at select yearling auctions.

Consequently, lower- to middle-market breeders will have less money to spend on new bloodstock. And, if they also lost income on mares that aborted due to MRLS, they may be selling stock rather than buying it.

Those factors may put buyers in a stingy mood. If so, the trend will be most obvious at Keeneland's sale, a longer auction that is more representative of the market's status than the shorter Fasig-Tipton select sale is.

"The very few prime offerings in the sale will continue to be very expensive," said Lexington bloodstock agent Lincoln Collins, whose November clients include both European and American commercial breeders and homebreeders. "There continues to be a strong demand for quality mares, and there are fewer of those horses than in previous years. My clients are telling me that they won't be as aggressive as in previous years, but they do want to buy, and they will spend a good amount of money on mares they find at a reasonable price."

That's good news for sellers with dazzling stock. For the mediocre or the simply overlooked, the market is likely to be as dismissive in November as it has been for summer yearlings.

In general, Collins and others point out, the prevailing economic winds are likely to be the dominant factor in the November market.

"The overall economic situation and the weaker catalog almost certainly will conspire to bring down the market somewhat," Collins concluded. "But, unless there's an economic collapse that no one foresees, the fundamentals of the horse business are really pretty strong. The publicity racing's getting is pretty good. There's more TV coverage, there are a lot of good things happening that would encourage people to buy horses. I definitely do not see a collapse of the kind we saw in the late 80's to mid-90's."

For people willing to spend, there are some rare items for sale. At Keeneland, 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow's dam, Hip No. 356, will sell carrying a full-sibling to Tiznow; Nuts in May (A. P. Indy), one of only two mares carrying the last foals by Nureyev, will sell as Hip No. 507; five mares in the catalog are carrying foals from the last crop of Unbridled; and Hip No. 125, Heeremandi, the only mare in foal to Storm Cat.

Among the other notable pedigrees from the catalog of 4,115 at Keeneland are:

* Hip No. 74, 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Desert Stormer, in foal to Kris S.;

* Hip No. 80, the dam of 2000 champion sprinter Kona Gold, in foal to War Chant;

* Hip No. 111, the dam of Grade 1 winner Golden Ballet, in foal to War Chant, followed by Golden Ballet as Hip No. 416;

* Hip No. 144, Grade 1 winner Lazy Slusan;

* Hip No. 149, the dam of Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt, in foal to Cat Thief;

* Hip No. 222, an Exploit half-sister to 1999 champion sprinter Artax;

* Hip No. 392, a Southern Halo half-brother to Honour and Glory;

* Hip No. 533, a Siphon (Brz) half-sister to 2001 Derby winner Monarchos;

* Hip No. 548, Canadian champion Saoirse, in foal to Seeking the Gold;

* Hip No 579, the dam of Grade 1 winner Captain Steve, in foal to Fly So Free.

Fasig-Tipton

Across town at Fasig-Tipton's Newtown Paddocks, a slim catalog of 72 for the select sale is highlighted by

* Hip No. 11, a Forestry half-sister to Sovereign Kitty;

* Hip No. 17, a Tale of the Cat half-sister to Shoop;

* Hip No. 22, an Exploit half-brother to Hookedonthefeelin;

* Hip No. 54, a Forty Niner half-sister to Firm Pledge, in foal to Golden Missile;

* Hip No. 65, the dam of Badge, in foal to Chief Seattle;

* Hip No. 67, Grade 1 winner Stormy Pick; and

* Hip No. 72, stallion Prospect Bay.

Dates and times

Keeneland's sale runs Nov. 5-15 with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. daily. In addition to its select auction Nov. 4 at 7 p.m., Fasig-Tipton also conducts an Adena Springs reduction Nov. 7-8 and a Stallion Access auction of seasons and shares on Nov. 9.