11/17/2006 1:00AM

Late-session prices remain strong


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Trade inevitably appears to slow at the end of Keeneland's two-week November breeding stock sale. Where the first week featured such highlights as a $6.1 million sale-topper, the second week's sessions more often see top prices in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. But the financial numbers and conversations with buyers and sellers show that even if the top prices seem relatively low in the sale's final week, this year they are still very strong for the stock on offer.

On Friday, the session-topper was the $185,000 filly Nesselrode, a 3-year-old daughter of Lemon Drop Kid. Nesslerode finished fourth for Lael Stables in her only start and was offered through the Mill Ridge Sales agency as a broodmare prospect. She is a daughter of the Storm Cat mare Desert Stormette, a half-sister to stakes winner Desert Gold. She is from the family of Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Desert Stormer. Machmer Hall Thoroughbreds was the buyer.

Nesselrode was one of three horses to sell on Friday for $100,000 or more. The other two were the 4-year-old broodmare prospect Stravinsky's Gal, whom Limerick Road Bloodstock purchased for $150,000 from Karrington Stables, agent, and the unraced 4-year-old Seattle Slew colt Hurricane Force, whom Ruel Cowles, agent, bought for $110,000 from Mill Ridge, agent.

Overall, the 12th session sold 226 horses for $2,974,100, up a whopping 87 percent from last year's equivalent day. The average price of $13,160 soared 63 percent, and the $8,000 median was almost double last year's median of $4,200.

The later sessions of the auction, which ends Sunday, show dramatic gains across the board. Such heady prices made selling fun, but for breeders seeking to replenish their broodmare bands with new purchases, the high prices were daunting. Why the exuberant bidding for mares, mares in foal, and weanlings - all of which are fairly long-term investments with delayed payoffs? No one seems to know for sure, but the bullish 2006 yearling market is one frequently cited reason. Breeders who made money at those sales are now happily flush and ready to reinvest.

The gains are all the more impressive considering that Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Darley operation and its rival, John Magnier's Coolmore Stud, have been largely absent from the auction this year.

"Darley never showed up, and John Magnier has been quieter than usual, and the fact that those gentlemen are not here and yet the sale has escalated this much is a great tribute to the overall economy," said Gerry O'Meara, general manager of True North Farm and an advisor to owner and breeder John Toffan. O'Meara has been both buying and selling at the auction.

"It's a tough sale to buy at," he acknowledged, "but that doesn't bother me, because you obviously want to see strength and depth in the market. You have to look at the overall big picture."

Right now, that picture's pretty good. And, once again, Keeneland's efforts to bring in international buyers have contributed noticeably to the good news. In addition to the usual late-market participation of Korean and South American interests, new buyers debuted from Trinidad and India, among other countries.

California hall of fame inductees

The California Thoroughbred Breeders Association has named the late John Mabee and his wife, Betty, to its Hall of Fame. The Mabees' Golden Eagle Farm breeding operation made them the state's leading breeders for 18 consecutive years.

Also up for induction at a Feb. 7, 2007, ceremony in California are the Mabees' homebred gelding Best Pal, legislator Ken Maddy, and classic-placed Free House.

Best Pal was a Grade 1 winner and runner-up in the 1991 Kentucky Derby. The immensely popular racehorse earned more than $5.6 million in his career. He died of a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 10.

The late Ken Maddy served as a California state senator for three decades, during which time he was instrumental in the passage of numerous racing- or breeding-related bills. Maddy also was a breeder whose best horses included, most recently, the leading Cal-bred female earner Moscow Burning, whom Maddy bred in partnership with Harris Farms. Maddy died in 2000.

Free House, a homebred campaigned by John Toffan and Trudy McCaffery, was a three-time Grade 1 winner. He also finished third in the 1997 Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness. He died in 2004 at 10.

* Jade Hunter (Mr. Prospector-Jadana, by Pharly), the sire of 2002 Horse of the Year and three-time female champion Azeri, will relocate from Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington to Michaelyn Gamble's Liberty Stud in Ghent, N.Y., for the 2007 season, to be managed by Questroyal.