04/10/2003 11:00PM

Keeneland would be content with rerun

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - When Keeneland's auctioneers open the bidding at Tuesday's 2-year-old sale, the auction house will be attempting to continue its record 2002 performance.

Whether Keeneland will accomplish that feat is anyone's guess. The select 2-year-old market this year, which opened in February, has been buffeted by everything from Iraqi war worries and economic downturns to extreme buyer selectivity.

That has produced some mixed results for sale companies. The Barretts March auction had the most paradoxical outcome: it enjoyed a world-record $2.7 million Sea of Secrets colt on the one hand but a 48 percent buyback rate and 33 percent decline in median on the other.

At Fasig-Tipton Calder's February sale, the top price also rose this year, to $1.4 million for a Tale of the Cat colt, but average and median sank.

The season opener, Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's Calder auction, did much the same with a sale-record $1.2 million for a Montbrook colt and declines in average and median.

Understandably, Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, says he will be thrilled if Keeneland comes close to matching last year's record run, which sold 102 lots for $17,749,500, yielding a record $174,015 average and record $127,500 median. The sale record top price of $2 million was set in 1999.

"But the world is a different place from the world last year," Russell said. "There are a lot of economic concerns. But I am glad the war situation has improved, and I hope that helps."

Russell said that despite the high buyback rate at Barretts, Keeneland representatives heard from a lot of would-be buyers at the California auction that they had been outbid in the strong upper market.

"We've recruited those buyers and think people are ready to buy," he said.

Another thing that might help is the fact that Keeneland's inspection team "raised the bar" on conformation this year, as Russell put it. The goal was to develop a catalog that satisfied buyers' increasing demands for racy individuals.

But, as always at a select juvenile sale, there are good pedigrees on offer, too. Here is a brief sampling of the more interesting ones from Keeneland's catalog of 262 horses:

* Hip No. 8, an El Prado half-brother to Grade 2 winner Lasting Approval.

* Hip No. 28, a Deputy Minister colt out of Grade 3 winner Meter Maid.

* Hip No. 49, an Unbridled colt out of North of Eden, the dam of champion grass horse Paradise Creek, Grade 1 winners Forbidden Apple and Wild Event, and stakes winner I'm Very Irish.

* Hip No. 63, a Seeking the Gold colt out of Grade 1 winner Plenty of Grace.

* Hip No. 67, a full sister to Grade 1 winner Stormy Pick.

* Hip No. 70, a Charismatic colt out of Grade 2 winner Radu Cool.

* Hip No. 80, a Silver Hawk colt out of multiple English champion Sayyedati.

* Hip No. 92, a Boston Harbor half-sister to $700,000-plus earner Max's Pal.

* Hip No. 94, a Coronado's Quest half-brother to Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up Chief Seattle.

* Hip No. 104, a Forest Wildcat half-brother to Canadian champion Honky Tonk Tune.

* Hip No. 111, a Charismatic half-brother to Grade 1 winner and producer Spinning Round.

* Hip No. 121, an A.P. Indy colt from the family of Point Given, the 2001 Horse of the Year.

* Hip No. 141, a Deputy Minister half-sister to Grade 1 winner Fowda.

* Hip No. 150, a Deputy Minister colt out of multiple Grade 3 winner Apolda.

* Hip No. 167, a Belong to Me half-brother to Canadian champion Wavering Girl and five graded stakes winners.

* Hip No. 168, an Unbridled's Song half-brother to Grade 3 winner and sire Belong to Me.

The sale also will feature the first 2-year-olds by such sires as Artax, Charismatic, Comic Strip, Crafty Friend, Exploit, Forestry, Good and Tough, Horse Chestnut, Lil's Lad, Mazel Trick, Menifee, Old Trieste, Parade Ground, Real Quiet, Silver Charm, Stormin Fever, Stravinsky, Tactical Cat, and Victory Gallop.

The one-day auction starts at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Keeneland's sale pavilion.