10/10/2008 12:00AM

OBS auction hit by 'perfect storm'


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s fall mixed sale, the first major mixed U.S. auction of the season, brought home a message yearling sellers first heard back in July. Namely, it's tougher to sell now, and if you bring anything to auction, it had better be quality.

The OBS auction, trimmed from five days to three this year, saw precipitous drops. The select session saw a startling 53 percent buy-back rate, as average plummeted 31 percent and median collapsed by 40 percent. Sellers adjusted expectations and scratched marginal horses to avoid a similar crash at the two open sessions, but declines were still steep: average fell 26 percent and median slid 29 percent.

OBS and consignors had braced themselves after the softer 2008 summer yearling sales, and the news only worsened in September when a nationwide credit drought and a wildly turbulent stock market touched off a global economic crisis.

"It's affected all industries, and we're certainly not insulated from it," OBS president Tom Ventura said.

Compounding the gloom, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Equibase reported on the sale's final day that third-quarter handle fell and purses fell this year.

Sellers glumly referred to a "perfect storm" of confidence-crushing circumstances, and, faced with continuing - and rising - expenses if they brought their horses home, many slashed their expectations and reserve prices.

"This, unfortunately, was not an especially strong catalog, and these horses in many cases were bringing what they were worth," said consignor Barbara Vanlangendonck of the Summerfield agency. "That's not always easy to accept as a consignor or an owner. This is something we saw in the late '80s. The market is correcting itself.

"It was very tough, and it was very difficult to tell people that their horses were not worth what they had hoped they were worth. It was a real touch with reality."

The news was not all bad, Ventura and various consignors agreed, in that the best horses at any given session were able to attract profitable bids.

"Buyers at the upper end were very particular but were willing to pay for that," Ventura said. "But there were some Storm Cats, Seeking the Golds, and Southern Halos that brought reasonable prices, and those buyers benefited from that."

Vanlangendonck said she and her husband will take advantage of good deals, too, if they can find them on quality horses. But they, like many, expect to be more bearish than bullish in the next few years.

"We're going to be very conservative in what we spend on stud fees, and we're going to be very conservative over every horse we purchase, whether it's for resale or breeding," she said. "We're going to have to be really in love with a horse before we spend the money on it."

Claiborne Farm releases '09 fees

Noting the current market conditions, Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., released its fees Friday, including reductions for five of its 13 stallions. Pulpit will stay the same at $80,000, but those with lower fees are Eddington, who goes from $20,000 to $15,000; First Samurai, from $40,000 to $30,000; Out of Place, from $7,500 to $5,000; Political Force, from $15,000 to $12,500; and Strong Hope, from $30,000 to $15,000.

Fees for Seeking the Gold ($125,000 last year) and Horse Chestnut ($5,000) are still to be announced.

Magna Graduate to stand at Darby Dan

Darby Dan Farm in Lexington will stand Elisabeth Alexander's six-time graded stakes winner and millionaire Magna Graduate upon his retirement, the farm announced Friday.

The 6-year-old Honor Grades horse will stand for $5,000 and will be syndicated.

In addition to winning the Grade 2 Clark Handicap and five other graded races from 2005 to 2007, Magna Graduate placed in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster last year, beaten just a head by Flashy Bull, and was third in the 2006 Dubai World Cup. He has placed in nine graded stakes to date and has earnings of more than $2.4 million.

Magna Graduate is out of Peacock Alley, by Fast Play.

Fasig-Tipton launches 'virtual catalog'

Fasig-Tipton has launched a new "virtual catalog" for its Nov. 2 selected mixed sale in Lexington.

The virtual catalog, available at www.fasigtipton.com, looks like a traditional hard copy catalog but features a number of innovations. Video links to graded stakes winners play footage directly on the catalog page rather than in a separate window. And the design allows viewers to "turn" pages simply by dragging a mouse, rather than requiring them to open and close individual catalog pages or click back and forth between pages.

* The Wicked North, 1994's champion older horse, has been pensioned from stud duty and will arrive Sunday at the Old Friends equine retirement facility in Georgetown, Ky. Sallee Vans has donated his transportation from Codell Rehabilitation Center, where he has been recuperating from colic surgery earlier this year. He is expected to arrive between 1 and 2 p.m., and the public is invited to welcome him. The Wicked North will be supported in his retirement by owner Annette Bacola, who stood him in 2007 at True North Farm.

* George Washington's only known foal, a weanling filly out of Flawlessly, will sell at the Goffs November mixed auction in County Kildare, Ireland, the Racing Post reported Friday. The sale runs Nov. 17-21.