09/14/2011 7:55AM

Numbers way up at Keeneland September's third session

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LEXINGTON – With its two select sessions already in the books, Keeneland got down to the nitty gritty of selling horses on Tuesday, the third day of its marathon September yearling sale. And the nitty gritty was good.

Average price for the 200 horses that went through the ring on Tuesday was $163,783, an increase of 22.4 percent over the comparable figure from last year’s third session, while the median price, $127,500, jumped 30.7 percent, a solid indication that demand for an upper middle-market horse has rebounded significantly since last year’s sale. Bidding was brisk but competitive throughout the eight-hour session, even after the crowds began increasingly gathering in the bars surrounding the sales pavilion late in the day (or maybe because of it).

Gross for the session was $32,756,500, a 20 percent increase over gross proceeds for the third session last year. Even the buyback rate showed improvement, falling 13 percent, with 28 percent of the horses on offer failing to meet the reserve set by their consignors during the session compared to 32.3 percent last year.  Significantly, the buyback rate fell as the session proceeded, meaning sellers adjusted their expectations to meet the market demand.

The strength of the session was welcome news to Keeneland officials, especially after average prices and median during the two select sessions on Sunday and Monday night clustered stubbornly around last year’s figures, introducing doubts that the bloodstock market would be able to regain any of the ground that it has lost over the last three years.

Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, credited the quality of the horses in the Tuesday session for most of the gains, while also saying that Keeneland’s decision to reduce the number of horses in the third-day catalog had brought the number down “to meet demand” at a time when foal crops are falling and the ownership ranks have been thinned by the recession’s impact.

“Quality of the horse,” Russell said, when asked why the session’s figures had improved so significantly. “The horses have been on the grounds for four or five days now, and we’ve received a lot of compliments from the buyers.”

The figures for the Tuesday session were strong enough, in fact, to lead to impressive increases overall for the three sessions conducted so far. In total for the first three days, Keeneland has sold 329 horses for gross of $78,356,500, an increase of 9.4 percent compared to last year’s gross for the first three sessions. Average over the first three days has been $238,166, a 10.1 percent increase, while median is up from $150,000 last year to $200,000, a 33.3 percent jump.

The Tuesday session topper was a $1.2 million Bernardini filly out of the Smart Strike mare Silk N’ Sapphire, making her a half sister to 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Shared Account. The filly, a well-made, compact April foal who sold early in the day, was the fourth horse to sell for $1 million or more at the sale, a level that three horses at last year’s sale reached.

The filly was bought by Benjamin Leon, the Miami health-clinic owner who has been active at yearling sales over the last several years and races under the name Besilu Stables. Leon said after he signed the ticket that he did not expect the filly to bring such a high price, but he found the filly too impressive to back down when the underbidder, the bloodstock agent John McCormack, matched his $50,000 raises until backing off at $1.2 million with his cell phone in his hand.

“It was more than I expected,” Leon said. “But then again, going around trying to find a filly that is the genuine package, that’s not easy.”

The filly was the property of Catherine J. Parke, who bought her dam, Silk N’ Sapphire, for $40,000 at the 2008 Keeneland November sale. The date of the sale was one day before Shared Account broke her maiden at first asking.

The next highest priced horse to sell during the session – a Medaglia d’Oro colt out of a granddaughter of champion Sky Beauty who went for $600,000 to Black Rock Stables – was hammered down at 6:15 p.m., after seven hours of non-stop selling. The colt was one of nine yearlings that brought $300,000 or more with an hour’s left of auctioneering.

The colt was also the highest-priced Medaglia d’Oro to sell at the session – no small feat, considering the sire had 14 horses sell on Tuesday for total proceeds of $3,282,000. The average price for all those d’Oro’s was $234,429, an amount that is more than twice his 2011 stud fee of $100,000.

By gross, Medaglia d’Oro was just edged by his barnmate Bernardini for first place on the sire list for the session (both stand at Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum’s Darley Stud outside of Lexington). Ten yearlings by Bernardini were sold on Tuesday for average price of $338,500, four-and-a-half times his 2011 stud fee of $75,000. Bernardini’s first foals are 3-year-olds this year, and his first crop includes recent Grade 1 Travers Stakes winner Stay Thirsty and five other grade or group winners.

The leading buyer at the session was John Ferguson, who purchases for Sheikh Mohammed. Ferguson bought nine horses for total spending of $2,225,000, an average of $247,222 per horse.

After the $600,000 Medaglia d’Oro colt, the next highest priced horse to sell on Tuesday was an Awesome Again colt from the family of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow that was purchased by Bluegrass Hall for $510,000. The colt’s dam, Tizso, is a full sister to Tiznow, who won two runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Next on the list was another Medaglia d’Oro colt, this one out of the Pleasant Tap mare Tap Dance, who sold for $470,000 to Mike Ryan, acting as agent.