09/18/2003 11:00PM

New buyers, from Mexico and beyond

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Casual observers of Kentucky's Thoroughbred marketplace might not have noticed when Jacobo Nahmad started signing tickets at Keeneland's September sale this week. But Keeneland's mid- to lower-level sellers did.

Nahmad, a Mexican textile manufacturer, has been buying inexpensive yearlings at the auction since 2000. So far this year, he has purchased 15 for $472,000, paying from $13,000 to $75,000 each.

Nahmad's presence reflects well on a joint marketing initiative by Kentucky's breeding and sales industry to aggressively promote Kentucky Thoroughbreds to foreign buyers. But the marketing program - whose backers include Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders - is about more than matching buyer and seller at a single auction, said Chauncey Morris, 29, the KTOB's director of business development.

"We're not just waiting for people to get off the plane, buy our lower-level horses, and go home again," Morris said. "It's more indirect marketing than that, about building relationships and building better horsemen no matter where they are, knowing that once they reach a certain level, they'll want to buy horses in the U.S."

Rather than merely plugging the attributes of Kentucky-breds, the program holds seminars for foreign horsemen about everything from identifying good conformation, to promoting the sport to the public, to lobbying the government for favorable regulation.

"Those are issues breeding and racing industries all over the world have to deal with," Morris said. "We want them to get interested in buying better horses, and we want to give them the tools to help them select a better horse. But we also want to work with people to grow the industry in their home countries, so that there's a real need for those better horses."

The point, of course, is that those "better horses" are available in Kentucky, at a variety of prices.

"We are promoting a part of the market that previously didn't have a lot of promotional steam behind it," Morris said. "Everybody has been pounding the pavement to find those buyers. It's a cognizance that every level of the Thoroughbred market is important."

So far, the program has targeted Mexico and western Canada. Next up: Korea, which is aggressively growing its Thoroughbred industry and recently began allowing its racehorse owners to import horses.

If Mexico is any indication, emerging foreign jurisdictions can be a growth market for Kentucky horses. In 2000, Mexican buyers bought $500,000 worth of Kentucky horses, for an average price of $5,000. Last year, total expenditures reached $1.7 million, and the average rose to $13,000.

Sale numbers staying up

On Friday, the 12-day Keeneland September sale's next-to-last session continued the auction's trend of increases, posting gains across the board. A $72,000 Honour and Glory-Izana colt that Keith Asmussen bought from Diamond A Racing Corp. (Eaton Sales, agent) was the afternoon's top seller.

The session sold 216 yearlings for $2,912,600, up 19 percent from last year's day 11, when 229 head sold. The 2003 session average was $13,484, up 26 percent, and median climbed 37 percent.

The auction's 10th session, on Thursday, posted gains in two of three categories, with the day's median price showing the first decline since the sale began Sept. 8. The Thursday session sold 299 yearlings for $5,066,800, up 23 percent over last year's equivalent session, and average price rose 9 percent to $16,946. Median fell 8 percent to $11,000.

Thursday's session-topper was a $155,000 Prized colt out of British-bred Crazee Mental. Blandford Bloodstock purchased the colt from Spendthrift Farm, agent.

The auction was to continue through Sept. 20 at the Keeneland sale pavilion.

Essence of Dubai retired

Godolphin's Grade 2 winner Essence of Dubai, who last raced in March, has retired from racing and will stand in 2004 at Hartley/DeRenzo Thoroughbreds in Ocala, Fla. He will stand as the property of Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Darley organization, which hasn't set a fee for Essence of Dubai, a 4-year-old Pulpit colt. Jimmy and Martha Gladwell will manage Essence of Dubai on behalf of Darley.

Essence of Dubai is out of 1987 champion juvenile filly Epitome, who also produced stakes-winner Danjur.

Bred by Jonabell Farm in Kentucky, Essence of Dubai was a $2.3 million yearling at the 2000 Keeneland September sale, where Sheikh Mohammed's agent John Ferguson signed the ticket.

Essence of Dubai won a pair of Grade 2 races, the 2002 Super Derby and 2001 Norfolk Stakes, and placed in five other stakes. He retires with a career record of 11-3-1-2 and earnings of $651,058.

More than 4,000 horses in Nov. sale

Keeneland announced Friday that it will catalog 4,059 horses to its November breeding stock sale, which will run Nov. 2-13. Last year's auction cataloged 3,597 horses.

The auction this year will feature William Schettine's dispersal of broodmares and weanlings, including the sale of Felicita, the dam of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady. The Schettine dispersal consists of 58 mares and weanlings who will be sold through the Paramount Sales agency.

Joanne Nor's Norfields Farm also will offer a consignment, through the Taylor Made agency.

Australia issues breeding statistics

Following on the heels of similar data released last week by The Jockey Club, Australian authorities have issued statistics for mares bred there. As in North America, Coolmore stallions lead the way in book size.

Thoroughbred Breeders Australia reported that Coolmore stallion Giant's Causeway, second among North American stallions by mares bred in 2002, bred 108 mares in Australia. That didn't put him at the top of Australia's list, but with a combined total of 321 Northern and Southern Hemisphere books, he outpaces other shuttle stallions. His nearest rival is Japanese-based shuttler Fuji Kiseki, with 318.

Rounding out the top ten are Coolmore stallions Danehill Dancer, with 311 mares in both hemispheres; Galileo, 298; High Yield, 286; Grand Lodge, 285; Orpen, 282; Fusaichi Pegasus, 281; Royal Academy, 279; and Desert King, 275.

* Sunday Break, retired to stud at Gainesway Farm in Lexington last month, will stand his initial season there for $10,000. Sunday Break, a Grade 2 winner who finished third in last year's Belmont Stakes, is a Japanese-bred son of Forty Niner and the Storm Cat mare Catequil.