04/17/2006 11:00PM

Moderate sale brings one $1M lot


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The select juvenile market, which saw a $16 million Forestry colt set a world record auction price in February, ended on a less flashy note Tuesday at Keeneland's 2-year-olds in training sale. Despite a strong campaign by Keeneland officials to bring buyers to the pavilion from around the world, prices generally did not keep pace with consignors' hopes. But the sale produced gains overall.

The day's highest price was $1.05 million for the Sequel Bloodstock agency's Fusaichi Pegasus-Indy Glory colt. Trainer Patrick Biancone signed the ticket for what he called "a group of my clients," paying the day's only seven-figure price for a colt from what consignor Becky Thomas called a "major sire family."

The colt is a New York-bred, and his dam is a Grade 2-placed stakes winner by A.P. Indy and is a full sister to Grade 1 winner Stephen Got Even. Thomas's Sequel agency sold the colt on behalf of owner Chester Broman.

The single session had a buyback rate of 41 percent, up slightly from last year's 40 percent. But it posted gains overall, selling 87 lots for $18,440,000 and a $211,954 average, an increase of 30.6 percent from last year's sale. Median was $150,000, an increase of 15.4 percent. Last year, 105 juveniles sold for $17,040,500, producing a $162,290 average and a $130,000 median.

Another well-publicized lot did crack the $1 million mark, but she failed to sell. That was Hip No. 144, George Steinbrenner's A.P. Indy daughter of dual Grade 1 winner Dream Supreme. Steinbrenner had turned down a $1.5 million offer for the filly several months before the Keeneland auction and put her in the sale, consigning agent Niall Brennan said, to give buyers "one chance" to access a family that Steinbrenner's Kinsman Farm homebreeding operation already has in spades.

The bidding opened at $1 million and finally settled at $2.395 million, where the hammer fell, short of the filly's reserve. The filly returns to Kinsman, unless Brennan works out a private deal. And it wasn't clear whether Steinbrenner would agree to that.

"She was a special, special filly," Brennan said. "You only get one chance at something like that. Mr. Steinbrenner was giving them the opportunity to buy into the family, and I guess they just couldn't see the light. The market just wasn't there for her. They had one chance."

Thomas had been skeptical about what price the sale-topping colt would bring, especially after he had only one workout in the preview show. That was on April 10, when he went an eighth of a mile in 11 seconds. Thomas had hoped to get a better time at the second preview on April 17, but when rain soaked the Keeneland track that day, she decided to gallop the colt instead of breeze him.

"I just wasn't sure where we'd be," she said, referring to the colt's price. "I told Chester I wasn't sure where we stood, and he said to stay tough. It takes just the right horse and just the right set of buyers."

Keeneland's auction closed out a record-breaking select juvenile sale season that produced a world-record $16 million Forestry-Magical Masquerade colt at Fasig-Tipton's Calder auction in February. The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's Calder sale also had a record average, though median slipped slightly. OBS's March sale in Ocala fired off a sale-record $1.8 million Belong to Me colt and $1 million Indian Charlie filly and set marks for gross, average, and median.

The trend was decidedly bullish for top offerings at the five major select sales, but it wasn't all good news. The market sagged slightly at the Barretts sale in California in mid-March, which saw a pair of seven-figure lots but also had declines in average and median.

"There just aren't enough end-users to go around," one Keeneland seller said mournfully. Keeneland faced that complaint at last year's sale, when average price fell 26 percent and median dropped 4 percent. But the sale company had assiduously recruited buyers in 2006. And even though major principals such as Jess Jackson and agents such as John Ferguson were attending the Australian yearling sale, their names still appeared on the buyers' list. So at least some of the high-level purchasers were willing to buy, but they were highly selective, and many were not prepared to bid extravagantly for their picks.

"It started off slow, but then it found its pace," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. "Overall, I think it was a successful exercise."

Consignor Murray Smith, who sold a spate of seven-figure juveniles last season, was philosophical about the apparent downturn at Keeneland.

"I've just bought one back right there, and he vetted four times," she shrugged, referring to an Outofthebox-Truly a Ransom colt that failed to sell at $145,000. "But I can't blame the buyers. It costs a whole lot of money to keep a horse in training, and that's why they call the game the sport of kings. We get our expectations up when one of our horses has a fast work, but, realistically, how many horses really are worth $1 million?

"Maybe now there will be an adjustment in the prices yearling buyers pay," Smith added. "The guy that comes into a yearling sale and pays $250,000 for a horse to take to the 2-year-old sales - those days are over."