Updated on 09/16/2011 6:39AM

Low buyback plus high demand equals strong sale


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland January sale ended Thursday on a strong note, as the low buyback rate of 18 percent, much better than last year's 28 percent, revealed a key positive point: the market was surprisingly strong for the stock on offer.

Topped by the $3.6 million mare Desert Stormer, whom Live Oak Stud bought from Joanne Nor, the auction sold 936 lots for $34,688,000, down 13 percent from 2001, when a six-day sale of 1,207 lots brought a total of $39,657,700. Average price rose 13 percent to $37,060, and median jumped 21 percent to $12,750.

But breeding stock and all-ages sales, such as the January sale, are notoriously difficult to compare, given the highly variable quality from year to year. This year, sellers repeatedly said they had sold almost all of their stock, while buyers complained that it was hard to buy the horses they wanted - a sign of a good sale.

"It was stronger than we anticipated it would be," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, "and it was consistent. It's rare to get those fancy jewels like Desert Stormer, and those jewels sold extremely well, but the middle market was also very, very solid. It gives a good feeling going into this breeding season off this. The supply is going to be short in the next couple of years [due to mare reproductive loss syndrome], so it's nice to see the demand is there. And some of it's new. We had a lot of new credit from buyers all over the country this year."

Thursday's high price was the $55,000 that Bohanon-Walden, LLC, which operates the Gracefield nursery in Lexington, paid for Flying Scot, a yearling Benny the Dip colt out of Magic Paintbrush (by Pirate's Bounty). Rick Littrell's Viking Stud, agent, sold the colt.

Vets reassure on MRLS

January is the beginning of the foaling season, and after last year's mare reproductive loss syndrome breeders are especially anxious to see whether the foals of 2002 will show any unusual symptoms or weakness.

At the sale, that anxiety was evident in discussion around the barn as some breeders expressed concern that Thoroughbred farms already are seeing more premature births than usual.

But veterinarians throughout Lexington say that, so far, they're seeing no increase in premature births or mare reproductive problems. In fact, according to Dr. Nathan Slovis at the major equine hospital Hagyard Davidson McGee, that clinic is seeing fewer foals than usual for this time of year. That's not surprising, considering that MRLS-related abortions especially affected mares that got in foal last January and February - the very mares that would be expected to foal now.

"We've seen just a handful of foals since the beginning of the year," Slovis said. "There are people who normally would have seen about 25 foals on the ground by now, and they only have a few. MRLS has really set things back this year."

Slovis said that Hagyard Davidson McGee has seen an estimated

10 foals so far, and about half of those arrived earlier than their breeders were expecting. Slovis said that none of those foals has presented unusual symptoms that would raise suspicion of MRLS effects.

Hagyard Davidson McGee also is monitoring a group of pregnant mares for any signs of MRLS-related problems. Those mares are ultrasounded every two weeks to a month, Slovis said, and so far all appear normal.

First 2-year-old sale

The juvenile sale season is almost here. The first major

2-year-old auction of the season, Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's Feb. 6 select juvenile sale at Calder in Miami, has cataloged 205 young horses in training. The company will mail its catalogs next week, but the curious can see the listings early at the OBS website at www.obssales.com.

The OBS-at-Calder sale will feature two under-tack shows, on Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 at 10:30 a.m. The one-day sale starts at 10:30 a.m. in the paddock at Calder Race Course.

At last year's auction, a $900,000 Irish River colt - now a winner named Max's Buddy - topped the sale on a final bid by Buzz Chace, agent. Mark Casse, agent, consigned the colt.