09/13/2009 11:00PM

Opportunity for yearling bargain hunters

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland September yearling sale opens Monday in Lexington with a smaller catalog than last year and lowered expectations in light of the dramatic downturn in both the Thoroughbred market and general economy.

The auction begins with a pair of select sessions Monday and Tuesday, then continues with open sessions through Sept. 28. The sessions will stream at . HRTV also will broadcast the select sessions.

:: HIPS TO WATCH: (PDF)

With 5,189 horses, this year's catalog is almost 7 percent smaller than last year's record tome of 5,555. The 2009 edition has 2,662 colts, 2,524 fillies, and 3 geldings.

The smaller catalog is undoubtedly a plus during an economic recession and when oversupply of horses is meeting lower buyer demand. But sellers and sale officials alike are realistic about the sale's chances for gains, considering that the Thoroughbred market so far this year generally has been down anywhere from 15 to 30 percent, with even lower figures in some regional markets comparable to Keeneland's non-select sessions.

Last year's auction took place as the stock market was bucking wildly, Wall Street firms were closing, and the depth of the global financial crisis began to hit home. The sale ended with 3,605 yearlings grossing $327,999,100, down 15 percent from 2007, while average fell 10 percent to $90,984 and median fell 12 percent to $37,000. It was the start of a sharp correction that only got sharper at the November breeding stock sales and this year's juvenile sales.

The silver lining will be for buyers: The huge Keeneland September market offers a particularly good chance this year to find bargains. And the sale's record at producing quality stakes winners is good, as Keeneland sale director Geoffrey Russell pointed out recently.

"At the recently concluded Saratoga meet, there were seven Grade 1 stakes-winning Keeneland September sale graduates: Forever Together, Seventh Street, Bullsbay, Careless Jewel, Capt. Candyman Can, Icon Project, and Dublin."

Dilger's stock gets a boost

Speaking of Dublin, breeder and Keeneland September consignor Gerry Dilger of Dromoland Farm had a big Labor Day weekend. Dilger co-bred both the Spinaway winner Hot Dixie Chick and Hopeful Stakes winner Dublin to close out the Saratoga meet.

Dilger bred the Dixie Union filly Hot Dixie Chick with Santa Rosa Partners, and the Afleet Alex colt Dublin with partner Peter Blum. He's also co-breeder of a nice 3-year-old this season in Despite the Odds, by Speightstown, who won the Grade 3 Hill Prince back in June.

The timing of all this black type is pretty handy, too. The Dromoland consignment at Keeneland September features a Speightstown half-sister to Hot Dixie Chick (Hip No. 540) and a Vindication half-brother to Dublin (Hip No. 3877). Neither Hot Dixie Chick nor Dublin had won stakes when the catalogs were printed, so the Grade 1 wins make eye-popping catalog updates.

Dromoland sold Dublin for $525,000 at this sale last year, and Hot Dixie Chick brought $340,000 at the 2008 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sale.

Dilger and Blum bred Classy Mirage to first-year stallion Afleet Alex to get Dublin.

"The mare hadn't really done a whole lot, but, the way that horse ran, Afleet Alex was a racehorse," Dilger said. "He stumbled and fell down and came back to win the Preakness. That was one reason to breed to him."

Hot Dixie Chick's dam, Above Perfection, was carrying the filly when Dilger, in the name of Keat's Grove Farm, paid $450,000 for her at the 2006 Fasig-Tipton November sale.

"Dixie Union will get you a very good-looking horse, super-bodied," Dilger said, "and he can get you a racehorse."

Both Dublin and Hot Dixie Chick showed early promise at Dilger's 312-acre operation. Dilger says he has a handful of mares there in partnership. ("My mother told me it was bad manners to count," he quips.) And though he is best know as a weanling-to-yearling pinhooker, he likes breeding them, too.

"It's nice to have a homebred, because you don't have to pay all that money for them," he said.

Despite the recent Grade 1's, Dilger remains modest.

"Next week somebody else will breed a Grade 1 winner," said Dilger. "There's always somebody coming on. I just got lucky that weekend and hope it will carry on."