04/01/2010 11:00PM

Pinhookers not guaranteed to turn profit


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Like all the other major auctions of 2-year-olds last year, Keeneland's 2009 April sale endured double-digit losses across the board. But those declines - 27 percent in gross, 16 percent in average price, and 22 percent in median - were the shallowest of the boutique 2-year-old sale season, which saw the market drop by roughly 33 percent overall.

On the eve of Keeneland's 2010 sale on Monday, the major spring 2-year-old sale returns so far are mixed. The gains that have occurred are giving Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, some hope for that the market is stabilizing.

"I think the 2-year-old sales started off well this year, and I hope our sale follows the lines of the OBS March sale," Russell said, referring to the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's March select auction. That sale posted an 11 percent gain in average and 17 percent increase in median; it also cut buybacks from 43 percent to 28 percent.

"There was more consistency to the whole market at that sale, and that was positive," Russell said.

He also pointed to a surprising variety of buyers so far at most of the boutique auctions.

"But there's always a concern that buyers will alight on the same horses and we'll have a polarization," Russell said. "That has been seen in a couple of sales this year."

But some yearling-to-juvenile resellers could face a tougher assignment at Keeneland this year, because the average yearling price last year of the 2010 Keeneland sale's resale prospects was higher. Yearling-to-juvenile resellers will need higher prices to profit here in 2010. One example of a high-priced resale prospect: Hip No. 43, a Maria's Mon half-brother to Miss Isella that IEAH Stables paid $500,000 for last year.

Russell attributes the higher average pinhook price, about $120,000 as compared with about $99,000 last year, to the Keeneland April sale's relatively late date on the boutique sale circuit, which opens in February, and to its recent successes, with graduates such as $1.9 million Take Control and Triple Crown hopeful (and 2009 juvenile champion) Lookin At Lucky. The bottom line, Russell believes, is that resellers were encouraged to give some of their higher-priced prospects more time to mature and train for a later auction, confident that the sale's good recent record would draw buyers with ready money.

The Keeneland April catalog also features a single horse by Storm Cat, from the great stallion's next-to-last crop. That is Hip No. 110, a son of Grade 1 winner Shadow Cast that was a $350,000 buyback last season.

Among proven and still-active sires, A. P. Indy has Hip No. 91, a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Southern Image being sold by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Stables, and Dynaformer has a half-brother to Eight Belles (Hip No. 151).

The 181-horse catalog started off smaller than last season's, and pre-sale withdrawals slimmed it down to 127 by Friday morning. Some good pedigrees were lost through those scratches, but quite a few other Grade 1- and millionaire-connected juveniles remain.

Freshman sires account for a good number of those. Bluegrass Cat has Hip No. 45, a three-quarter brother to millionaire Leah's Secret, and Hip No. 61, a half-brother to Tenpins. Sharp Humor's filly selling as Hip No. 54 is a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Don't Forget Gil. War Front's three offerings include Hip No. 89, a half-brother to Tres Borrachos. Hip No. 161, a half-sister to Vision and Verse is by First Samurai.

Other horses with Grade 1 performers in their immediate families include Hip No. 69, a Mr. Greeley half-brother to Noble Causeway; Hip No. 72, a Medaglia d'Oro half-sister to Get Funky; Hip No. 124, a Smart Strike half-brother to Silver Swallow; Hip No. 126, a Consolidator three-quarter-sister to the dam of Commentator; Hip No. 139, a Songandaprayer son of champion Xtra Heat; Hip No. 141, a More Than Ready half-sister to Middlesex Drive; Hip No. 142, a Tiznow half-brother to She's Cheeky; and Hip No. 169, an Unbridled's Song half-brother to Newfoundland. Hip No. 117, a Johannesburg daughter of $3.5 million earner and Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain, also is a three-quarter sister to Grade 1 and Group 1 performers Plan and Dreamtheimpossible. And Smarty Jones fans will appreciate Hip No. 58, a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Take the Ribbon.

The Keeneland April 2-year-old sale will begin at 4 p.m. Eastern on Monday at Keeneland's sale pavilion.