11/15/2001 12:00AM

November sale revenue falls


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Topped by $4 million mare Twenty Eight Carat, the Keeneland November breeding stock sale concluded Thursday with steep declines from last year's edition.

The 2001 sale, compromised by the impact of mare reproductive loss syndrome, cataloged just 4,115 lots, down substantially from last year's record catalog of 5,111. The 2001 auction sold 2,506 lots for total revenue of $179,568,600 and an average price of $71,655. Last year, buoyed by dispersals of high-quality stock, 3,266 lots brought a total of $301,994,800 and a record average of $92,466.

Elizabeth Moran of Brushwood Stable bought the 2001 sale topper. Twenty Eight Carat, sold in foal to Fusaichi Pegasus, is the dam of Grade 1 winner A P Valentine and stakes winner Summer Bet. Lane's End consigned the mare on behalf of Thomas Domencich.

The top weanling was a $1.5 million Storm Cat-Better Than Honour filly, which Hill 'n' Dale, agent, sold to Josham Farms.

Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, said that company officials expected the sale to be down due to MRLS and a slowing economy, and that the terrorist attacks also hurt the sale.

But Russell was pleasantly surprised by some unexpected strength in the middle market, which appeared far weaker at the September yearling sale than in November.

This year, 'outs' were in

One of the most noticeable features of this year's Keeneland November breeding stock sale was the high number of mare withdrawals, or "outs," from the catalog.

The reasons that sellers withdraw horses from an auction are varied. The nomination date for the November sale is in August, giving sellers plenty of time to mull economic circumstances before the mare actually goes through the auction ring. If the economy slows, as it did this fall, and sellers worry that an auction will not go well for them, they may be inclined to withdraw a horse rather than risk paying Keeneland's commission on a horse that fails to reach her reserve.

Another factor, and one that sometimes catches new breeders by surprise, is in the stallion contract. Mare owners often breed on a live-foal basis, meaning that they pay a stud fee only if the foal is born alive. But many stallion contracts include a provision that mare owners will lose the live-foal guarantee if they put the mare in a sale, making the breeder liable for the stud fee. In practical terms, this means that the breeder who plans to sell his in-foal mare must pay the stud fee before the sale.

Linda Little, assistant controller at Walmac International in Lexington, explained the reasoning behind this provision.

"The contract was made between the farm and the original mare owner," she said. "When the mare is sold, we don't know where she's going or how she'll be cared for. Most are well taken care of, but even putting a mare through a sale can be a stressful situation for the mare, and she can slip."

There's another side to the live-foal situation. The buyer who purchases an in-foal mare bids with the understanding that the mare's value includes the stud fee. If the mare aborts at her new home, any premium the buyer may have paid for her fetus is lost with the foal.

Buyers often alleviate this risk by acquiring prospective-foal insurance when the hammer falls, but in the wake of the unsolved mystery of mare reproductive loss syndrome, that insurance was harder to come by, and more expensive, this November.

That resulted in an unusual arrangement. Some sellers offered transferable prospective-foal insurance, essentially giving the new buyer a live-foal guarantee.

That's good for the buyer, provided the mare actually makes it through the sale ring. But at Keeneland this year, the large number of late withdrawals left some buyers frustrated.

Keeneland's Russell sympathizes, but noted that the sale company can't force a seller to sell a horse.

"I was very disappointed with the number of outs, in particular the late outs," he said. "We had cases where people had done some work looking at these horses and even done some vetting, and then the horse never came to the ring. I had a few irate people in my office over that."