11/12/2009 12:00AM

Overbrook mares bring big prices


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Overbrook Farm's dispersal brought some excitement back to Keeneland's November breeding stock sale on Wednesday, one day after across-the-board declines confirmed sellers' fears that the Thoroughbred industry recession isn't over yet.

You wouldn't have known that by the session-leading price at 5 p.m. Eastern. That was $3.1 million, which France's Wertheimer family paid for Honest Pursuit. The 4-year-old Honest Pursuit, part of Overbrook's dispersal, was by the farm's stallion Storm Cat out of Honest Lady, a daughter of the great broodmare Toussaud. Honest Pursuit, offered as a racing and broodmare prospect, represented a unique nearly priceless chance for a breeder to acquire blood from one of the world's most productive broodmare lines, held in private hands by Juddmonte Farms.

"It was a big price, but she is a big mare," said trainer Alec Head, who sat next to Alain Wertheimer during the bidding.

Overbrook's Wednesday consignment of 38 horses grossed $20,957,000, for an average price of $551,500. That lifted Keeneland's session figures. The session sold 169 horses for $45,360,000, up 8 percent from last year s total for 150 horses. Average dropped, but not precipitously, falling just 4 percent to $268,402. Median increased 9 percent to $175,000, and the buyback percentage dropped from last year s 35 percent to 13 percent.

The cumulative figures still showed the damage of the continuing overall downturn. The two-day gross for 295 horses was $71,651,500, down 20 percent, while the $242,886 average was down 19 percent and the $160,000 median was down 6 percent.

Overbrook paid $1.9 million for Grade 1-placed stakes-winner Cotton Blossom in 2007 at Fasig-Tipton's November mixed sale. The heirs to the late W. T. Young's breeding operation brought her back to market Wednesday and made a neat profit when she brought $2.3 million from Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable. Agent Dean De Renzo bid for Moran. Cotton Blossom, a 5-year-old Broken Vow mare, is carrying her first foal, by Street Cry.

Overbrook's stellar consignment, handled by the Eaton Sales agency, featured a few collector's items, and they sold like the rare pieces they are. The days of $5 million mares seem long gone, but buyers American and domestic can still be coaxed, very occasionally, to spend seven figures for a standout. By 4:45 p.m., four of Overbrook's offerings had brought $1 million or more. In addition to Honest Pursuit and Cotton Blossom, they were $1.7 million Summer Raven, in foal to Unbridled's Song, bought by agent Reynolds Bell, and $1.3 million Dark Sky, a 4-year-old full sister to French Oaks winner Nebraska Tornado, bought by Edward Evans.

The mystery man among the Overbrook mare buyers was Reynolds Bell's client. The same unidentified man bought both Summer Raven and $850,000 Mary Delaney (in foal to Elusive Quality).

"Domestic, can't mention his name, she'll stay here in Kentucky," Bell said after signing for Summer Raven. A 7-year-old Summer Squall mare, Summer Raven is carrying a full sibling to promising 2-year-old Winslow Homer. Bell did call the buyer "a fairly new person in the business" and said: "He's looking to put together a nice broodmare band to breed to race and sell. He's a bargain shopper, that's for sure. He understands that there's some value in the market right now, and this mare might have cost $2.5 million last year.

"I don't know what business he's in, to be honest with you," Bell said, adding, "I just know that he's a nice individual for our business, and I'm happy to be working with him."

This new investor prompted a flurry of speculation that perhaps W.T. Young's grandson Chris, who was at Keeneland overseeing the dispersal, had employed Bell to buy some of the family bloodstock back, but Young emphatically denied that.

"I will not buy any of these horses back," said Chris Young. He plans to stay involved in the Thoroughbred business somehow, he has said, but those plans are still in development. "I enjoy racing and I enjoy the breeding, but I don't enjoy the scale that we're doing it at Overbrook. So I'm going to do something, but do it smaller."

Surrounded by some of Overbrook's longtime employees, Young assessed the Overbrook consignment in both business and personal terms.

"I think we're absolutely pleased," he said. "The market is what it is, but the horses are selling very well. I obviously have a feeling for these mares, but you can see all the people from the farm here that have been around them a while lot more than I have. It's probably harder on them than it is on me."

The Windfields Farm dispersal also contributed a big price. The operation that once stood Northern Dancer sent a single mare, Sweet and Careless, through the ring Wednesday. She brought $900,000 from unidentified clients of Denali Stud, and her weanling Elusive Quality colt went to Grove Stud for $85,000. Sweet and Careless is the dam of Grade 1 winner Careless Jewel, by Tapit, and is carrying a full sibling to that runner.

Whatever exuberance there was at the top of the market also had been seen at Fasig-Tipton the night before. Fasig-Tipton's one-night auction featured the same peaks and valleys - from million-dollar buybacks to million-dollar sales - as at Keeneland.

Summer Wind Farm owners Jane and Frank Lyon, commercial breeders who sold the Saratoga select and Keeneland September sale-topping yearlings this season for a combined $5.74 million, signed the ticket for Fasig-Tipton's November sale topper. That was Holiday Runner, the dam of Seventh Street, and she cost the Lyons $2.15 million after a duel with Live Oak Stud's general manager Bruce Hill. The 9-year-old Meadowlake mare sold in foal to Tiznow and was part of Baccari Bloodstock's consignment.

Holiday Runner was one of seven horses to sell for $1 million or more at Fasig. Hill came back to buy the night's only other $2 million horse, Private Feeling, the dam of Lookin at Lucky and Kensei. Taylor Made, agent, consigned her in foal to Mr. Greeley.

Fasig-Tipton sold 78 fillies, mares, and weanlings for $28,505,000, down 59 percent from last year's sale. The 2009 average of $365,449 was 53 percent lower than last year's figure, and the $170,000 median was off by 32 percent. Buybacks, however, improved from last year's 39 percent to 30 percent

But year-to-year comparisons were nearly meaningless in this case, because the 2008 sale featured the extraordinary world-record sale of $14 million broodmare Better Than Honour and $5.7 million Stardom Bound. For additional context, here's how the 2009 results compared with the 2007 sale, which took place before the global financial crisis and which also featured the $5.75 million sale of 2007 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Round Pond. The 2009 auction offered 111 horses, as compared with 2007's 144. The 2009 auction sold 78 horses for $28,505,000, down 45 percent from 2007's total for 107 horses. In the same timeframe, average fell 25 percent, but median declined only 6 percent.

Fasig-Tipton's other millionaires were $1.8 million Magical Fantasy, whom Teruya Yoshida bought from Eaton Sales, agent; $1.6 million Lady Joanne, in foal to Tiznow, whom Masatake Iida bought from Adena Springs; $1.5 million Black Mamba, whom Evergreen Stables bought from Taylor Made, agent; and $1 million Always Awesome (in foal to Medaglia d'Oro), whom Charles Fipke bought from Adena Springs.

The Keeneland November breeding stock sale was to continue through Nov. 22, with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.