11/06/2008 1:00AM

Mushka bucks trend at $2.4M price

Photos By Z/Keeneland
Baroness Thatcher sold for $1.8 million to Patrick Biancone, who used to train her.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Ahmed Zayat's Grade 2 winner Mushka proved Tuesday that race-ready horses with proven talent are hot commodities in today's Thoroughbred marketplace, where buyers are looking for a sure thing in uncertain economic times. The 3-year-old Empire Maker filly brought a session-topping $2.4 million bid from Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, one day after the auction's opening session posted sharp double-digit drops.

The slides continued Tuesday. The second session's gross for 150 horses was down 40 percent, to $42,006,000, from last year's second day, when 186 horses sold. The second-day average of $280,040 was down 25 percent from last season, and the $160,000 median represented a decline of 27 percent. Buybacks also increased, from the 2007 figure of 20 percent to 35 percent.

National Steeplechase Association president Francis Abbott signed Mushka's ticket for an absent Moran, who has one of the world's elite broodmare bands. Abbott said Moran was willing to bid a premium price largely because Mushka is in a position to earn purse money immediately.

She will return to trainer Bill Mott, said Abbott.

"There's the whole package there," Abbott said. "She's got great size, she's correct, she can run, and she can run now, and she's got tremendous potential as a broodmare, obviously."

Mushka is out of the stakes-winning Seeking the Gold mare Sluice. She sold through the Eaton Sales agency as part of Ahmed Zayat's much-anticipated consignment of proven racing stock.

The second-highest price at the Tuesday session was the $1.8 million trainer Patrick Biancone paid to put another Zayat runner, 4-year-old Baroness Thatcher, back in his barn. Biancone trained the Johannesburg filly before being suspended for a year by Kentucky racing authorities in 2007 after a bottle of cobra venom, a prohibited painkiller, was found in his barn. Zayat then sent the filly to Mott. But Biancone, whose suspension ended Saturday, said he has received his license in California and will send Baroness Thatcher there. She will likely be his first runner as he reassembles a stable from younger stock, he said.

Biancone currently holds two California Horse Racing Board licenses, according to Mike Marten, public information officer for the CHRB, an owners' license that is in good standing and a training license that lapsed during his suspension for failure to make workers' compensation payments. For his training license to be restored to good standing, Biancone would have to appear before CHRB officials, something he has not yet done, according to Marten. Both licenses expire in 2009.

Biancone would not identify his client in the purchase except to say they are new owners. But he was effusive about the filly.

"It's like being back with an old girlfriend," he said. "I loved her. I'm emotional about that."

Baroness Thatcher is a Grade 3 winner and she has placed four times in Grade 1 company. She has earned $531,889.

Zayat's graded-placed J Z Warrior also was a million-dollar sale. The 3-year-old Harlan's Holiday filly brought $1,125,000 from Olin Gentry, who said he was representing an anonymous female buyer from Washington state.

There were five other million-dollar horses at the session.

Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Stable bought the $1.55 million Oatsee, the dam of Grade 1 winner Lady Joanne and in foal to A. P. Indy, from Belvedere Farm, agent. Frank Stronach bought Lady Joanne, in foal to Mr. Greeley, for $1.25 million from Gainesway, agent (for Bentley Smith).

You're Beautiful, a 4-year-old Storm Cat half-sister to Tiznow, sold for $1.2 million to Denali Stud, agent; Gainesway, agent, consigned the mare in foal to Mr. Greeley. Kern-Lillingston, agent, paid $1,150,000 for Apache Plume, a 4-year-old Storm Cat-Aishah mare in foal to Pulpit, from Middlebrook Farm. And Jon Kelly spent $1.25 million for Carribean Sunset, third in the 2008 Irish 1,000 Guineas, from Paramount, agent.

Tuesday's session followed precipitous declines at Monday's opening session, as compared to the 2007 opener, which produced a world-record $10.5 million broodmare price from the deep Swettenham Stud dispersal.

With no similar offerings Monday, the 2008 auction sold 149 horses for a total of $48,021,000, a drop of 56 percent from the tally of $109,064,000 for 194 horses at last year's equivalent session. The 2008 average of $322,289 was down 43 percent, and median plummeted 32 percent to $185,000.

The buyback rate nearly doubled from 19 percent last season to 38 percent on Monday.

"Last year we had a session that was unique unto itself, and this year we had no expectations we were going to be close to it," Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said. "Last year, we had 28 million-dollar horses, and this year we had 11. Is that the economy or the catalog? I think both."

Prevailing market conditions in Thoroughbred breeding didn't faze Stronach Tuesday. He felt he got Lady Joanne at a discount.

"Last year, she would have been a lot more," said Stronach, chairman of the troubled racetrack operator Magna Entertainment Corp., whose racetracks include Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Pimlico, and others.

Other breeders and buyers saw Magna Entertainment's struggle to stave off bankruptcy as symptomatic of the very problems contributing to declining bloodstock prices. Ocala Stud owner Mike O'Farrell, attending the auction with Lady Joanne's seller, Bentley Smith, summed up a common view.

"One of our biggest problems in Florida is our racetracks," O'Farrell said. "Calder's purses have been cut probably 40 percent, handle is way down because of the ADW [advance deposit wagering] situation.

"And Gulfstream," he said of one Magna track, "isn't doing particularly well. They're having a hard time competing with the Indian casinos with slots. Their purses are stagnant, and their stock prices aren't great. So the mood is not great in Florida breeding right now."

As a result, O'Farrell said, he isn't shopping for mares at Keeneland.

"It's hard to be optimistic about the market for the next couple of years," he said. "If you've got the wherewithal, it's a great time to buy some quality horses. But there are an awful lot of people who don't have it."

"Racing, there are flaws in the system," Stronach acknowledged.

Tracks should be allowed more flexibility in racing dates, and illegal offshore gambling sites should be pursued more aggressively, he suggested.

"I have mixed feelings," he said of the Thoroughbred industry's future. "On the one hand, I would like to be optimistic. But in racing we run too much in different directions. . . . We've gotta get much more together."

The Keeneland November sale, which offered a record catalog of 5,709 horses, runs through Nov. 17 with sessions starting daily at 10 a.m. in Keeneland's sale pavilion.

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