01/16/2003 12:00AM

Other businesses will feel loss of July sale

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland Association's decision this week to cancel its signature July select yearling sale for a year will create economic ripples throughout Lexington's equine and hospitality businesses.

The auction, which last year grossed $32,385,000 for 87 yearlings, clearly has been an important part of the Keeneland Association's bottom line. But it also fed a number of related businesses that now stand to see some midsummer declines without the annual influx of July yearlings and their buyers at Keeneland. The Lexington Chamber of Commerce has said it doesn't have a study of the auction's annual economic impact on the town, but business operators from equine shipping companies to hoteliers know they will feel the loss in their pocketbooks.

"Our business is tilted toward the top end, and we have a large clientele among the top-end buyers," said Bob Maxwell, whose family operates Lexington-based Sallee equine van line. "Our best sales every year, in terms of the percentage of horses on offer that we haul, are Keeneland July and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga. We haul about 68 percent of the July horses and 50-plus percent at Saratoga. So it's definitely going to have an impact."

Businesses like Sallee expect to make up some of their July losses in August and September, when yearlings that would have sold at Keeneland July ship instead to Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga sale or Keeneland's September auction.

Maxwell said Sallee will bring in extra vans from New York, Illinois, and Florida to help with any added business in September, normally the company's busiest sale assignment.

"Hopefully, things will fall into place and we'll pick up some of our July business then, but it won't be as profitable if we have to bring equipment in from a distance."

But businesses such as hotels and restaurants that rely on the annual upswing in Lexington visitors may find it harder to replace the July income. Patrons may still show up for Fasig-Tipton's two-day July auction on July 16-17, but they may not stay as long if they only have one catalog of horses to review.

Mark Jeffrey, general manager at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, a popular hotel for visiting buyers, remains optimistic.

"We've talked to some of our regular customers, and many of them are coming in for Fasig-Tipton's July sale," he said, adding that those commitments include major buyers such as Coolmore chief John Magnier. Jeffrey noted that the hotel's client base is diverse enough to weather an expected "moderate impact."

The underlying problem is mare reproductive loss syndrome. The abortion-causing disease reduced Kentucky's 2003 yearling crop by an estimated 20 to 30 percent, causing a horse shortage that Keeneland cited in putting the July sale off for a year.

"No matter how many horses people bring to sell in September, there are still fewer horses overall to sell," Sallee's Maxwell said. "That hurts us all."

Numbers up at OBS mixed sale

The Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's expanded winter mixed sale ended Wednesday with gains in gross and average.

The company conducted a second open session in addition to its consignor-preferred and original open session this year. Overall, the auction sold 580 horses for $4,993,000, up 18 percent from last year's figure of $4,231,900 for 494 lots. Average price crept up slightly from $8,566 last year to $8,608.

OBS also announced it has rescheduled its 2003 fall mixed sale. The sale will run from Oct. 13-17, and not on its originally scheduled dates of Oct. 7-11. The July 7 closing date remains the same.

Caterpillar control intensifies

As breeding season approaches, research continues into mare reproductive loss syndrome and its prevention. The disease's cause isn't known, but some research has pointed to the caterpillar as a potential factor. Now, some advice for controlling them is on the way.

University of Kentucky entomologist Dan Potter is focusing on two approaches in a $50,000 project funded by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation: finding an environmentally safe and effective spray-on compound that kills caterpillars in their eggs, and injecting the caterpillars' food source, wild cherry trees, with chemicals that kill the caterpillars but are not harmful to horses or the environment.

The results aren't ready yet, but Grayson-Jockey Club chairman John Hettinger, a Fasig-Tipton principal, and Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson have agreed to make the sale company's pavilion available for a meeting as soon as Potter is ready to brief horsemen.