03/12/2009 11:00PM

Mood of cautious optimism at OBS

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March 2-year-old auction has gone from strength to strength in recent years, culminating in records across the board at last year's sale.

The outlook for 2009 is much more conservative, and with good reason. The worldwide economic crisis appears to have worsened since the 2-year-old auction season began in early February, although sellers convening for the OBS March sale were cheered to see some upward movement last week in the stock market. So far, with three major select juvenile auctions on the books in 2009, the market has been roughly 25 percent to 35 percent lower than it was last year.

OBS was the first to see this trend in the juvenile market at its bellwether February select auction. That one-day sale also was coming off record 2008 returns and saw gross fall 29 percent, average drop 34 percent to $104,481, and median decline 28 percent to $90,000. Fasig-Tipton's March 3 Calder sale, traditionally famous for producing multimillion-dollar horses, had three seven-figure juveniles this year but ended with declines of 25 percent in gross, 32 percent in average ($235,595), and 35 percent in median ($150,000).

Most recently, California's Barretts auction declined 30 percent in average ($125,260) and 27 percent in median ($80,000).

Those conditions alone are enough to keep expectations in check this year at OBS March. Last year's record average of $143,262 and record median of $100,000 set a standard that's not likely to fall in the current climate. With 523 horses in its catalog, the 2009 auction is the first two-day sale and the first to test the wider market with larger numbers. While supply might overwhelm a choosy market in a downturn, previous sales at least have offered hopeful signs that buyers - even some relatively new buyers - are still out there making bids and signing tickets for potential racehorses, and at a range of prices.

"The horse market certainly hasn't been insulated by what's happening in the rest of the world, and there will be an impact we'll feel here," said OBS president Tom Ventura.

He said he felt the sale's record in yielding such runners as Triple Crown hopeful The Pamplemousse, combined with what he feels is a high-quality catalog, "are signs for optimism."

"But I think in the end there will be some good buys out of the sale, some good value, because of what's happening in the global economy," Ventura said.

The catalog doesn't lack for speedy horses, as evidenced by results from the second under-tack session on Friday.

A single 2-year-old posted the day's fastest eighth-mile time of 9.60 seconds. That was Hip No. 450, a More Than Ready-Silent Circle colt.

Five horses had the quickest quarter-mile works in 20.30 seconds. They were Hip No. 261, a Gulch-Lady of Wicklow filly; Hip No. 276, a Tiger Ridge-Low Talker colt; Hip No. 327, a Distorted Humor-Mountain Girl filly; Hip No. 340, an Exchange Rate-Notably Charming filly; and Hip No. 498, an Indian Ocean-Sweet Zeena colt.

The top three-eighths work, in 33 seconds, belonged to Hip No. 414, a Mingun-Run Early Run Fast colt.

There are also some notable pedigrees on offer at the auction this year. Hip No. 111, an Awesome Again colt, is a half-brother to Canadian champion Ginger Brew, for example. Hip No. 253, a Speightstown filly, is a half-sister to Canadian grass champion Chopinina. And Hip No. 435, a Peace Rules colt, is a half-brother to Argentine Horse of the Year Second Reality.

There are also siblings to a pair of high-priced OBS graduates: Hip No. 121 is a full brother to Grade 1-placed Chapel Royal, who cost $1.2 million in 2003, and Hip No. 132 is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner D'Wildcat, a $600,000 purchase in 2000.

Other siblings to Grade 1 performers include Hip No. 181, a three-quarter sister to Black Seventeen; Hip No. 206, an El Corredor half-brother to High Heeled Hope; Hip No. 381, a full brother to Last Song; Hip No. 407, a Vindication half-sister to Things Change; Hip No. 489, a Ghostzapper half-brother to Joey Franco; and Hip No. 495, a full brother to Attila's Storm.

The sale is set for Tuesday and Wednesday at the OBS facility in Ocala, Fla., starting daily at 11 a.m. Eastern.

Grants awarded for 17 health projects

The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation will fund 17 research projects related to horse health in 2009, the organization announced Friday.

The project grants total $874,894. They include work on such topics as tracking Thoroughbred injuries, faster diagnosis of botulism, combating equine herpesvirus, repairing fractures, and preventing placentitis-induced labor in broodmares.

Receiving the Elastikon Equine Research Award was a Washington State University study of stem-cell treatment for suspensory ligament injury. A $15,000 award, the Storm Cat Career Development Award underwritten by Lucy Young Hamilton of Overbrook Farm, went to Ph.D. graduate student Melissa King, who will work with surgeon Dr. Wayne McIlwraith at Colorado State University to study underwater treadmill exercise and its role in reducing osteoarthritis development.

The foundation also announced that Dr. Paul Lunn of Colorado State University will succeed Dr. Larry Bramlage as chairman of its research advisory committee. Bramlage, who chaired the committee for 11 years, remains a member of the foundation's board.