04/10/2007 12:00AM

Polytrack yields fast under-tack times


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's new Polytrack surface has been in use as a racing strip since October, but its debut Monday as a training surface at a juvenile sale had consignors wondering how the synthetic track might affect the 2-year-old auction world.

Om Monday, consignors had to notice of the startlingly fast workout times. In the Keeneland April sale's first under-tack show, two horses, a Yankee Gentleman-Truly Something colt and a Lemon Drop Kid-High Heeled Hope filly, set a juvenile sale record of 20.20 seconds for a quarter-mile breeze. Another horse, a Mineshaft-Stylish Talent filly, breezed an eighth-mile in record-equaling time of 9.60 seconds. Nine other horses worked an eighth in under 10 seconds on Monday, and four others breezed a quarter-mile in under 21 seconds. Consignors at the preview noted that Keeneland's spring race meet, which opened April 6, has also produced fast times on the Polytrack, possibly because of unseasonable, freezing temperatures in the last week.

Some consignors said they believe the multitude of fast times will help the market by bringing more horses to buyers' attention.

"I feel like the buyers will have the same learning curve we will in how to sell on the Polytrack," Sequel Bloodstock owner Becky Thomas said. "They've got to have more evaluation than just cherry-picking the top five works. This is a very fast track, and a lot of horses had fast times. So I think the buyers will be going back to the barn to look at more of the horses. That might work to level the playing field. If we can sell a few more horses because of that, I'll be really, really happy. If we can force buyers to look beyond that single time, that's good.

"This is a cold track," Thomas added. "What are we going to see if next week it's 80 degrees? We all have to get ourselves educated."

In general, consignors also seemed pleased with the way their horses handled the Polytrack. Keeneland and other tracks now installing the surface believe that it is a kinder track that will promote soundness, a factor 2-year-old sellers believe could help lower the rate of presale scratches.

Consignor Niall Brennan expressed a view commonly heard trackside at the breeze show.

"Horses like it," he said. "It's very consistent, and horses seem to get over it easily."

"I never had any doubts," said Kip Elser of Kirkwood Stables. "We want to see horses come back well from their breezes and improve, hopefully, from their first breeze to their second breeze. That will leave buyers more sound horses to pick from."

Keeneland's second under-tack show takes place Monday at 10:30 a.m. The sale is on Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

Consignor goes against the grain

One consignor, Bob Cunningham, is bucking the trend of breezing sale horses aggressively and even pushing them well past the finish line to get good gallop-out times for demanding buyers. Instead, as Cunningham explained, he likes to "train 'em like I'm going to race 'em, which I sometimes will."

Cunningham said he might start one of the juveniles in his Bloodstock Management consignment, a Two Punch-Ogygianna colt named He Packs a Punch, at Keeneland on Sunday, two days before the auction. That colt, offered as Hip No. 36, worked three-eighths on Monday in 33.40 seconds. But the rest of Cunningham's four-horse consignment just galloped a traditional "two-minute lick" - about the rate they would go to cover a mile in two minutes - in keeping with Cunningham's philosophy of building a foundation instead of flashing speed. In a market that rewards fast times, Cunningham knows he's taking a risk.

"I haven't galloped out for about three years," said Cunningham, referring to the practice of keeping a horse at speed past the finish line at under-tack shows, a practice that consignors say buyers want to see. "I just feel like it's hard on these babies."

Cunningham knows he might be sacrificing the big home-run sale but says he's focusing on offering sound horses and building his buyer base.

"I haven't gotten as much money for them, but I'm making a living," he said. "I'm trying to take care of the horses."

Among the runners Cunningham has sold at juvenile sales are two-time Grade 1 winner Lady Tak, a $7,500 yearling that he sold for $75,000, and graded-placed Five Star Daydream, a $55,000 yearling that brought $250,000.

"I'm getting repeat buyers," Cunningham said. "I'm just so happy when someone comes up to me and says they like how their horse is doing. I realize I'm swimming upstream a little, but it's working for me."

Yearling-sale season Down Under

In Australia, it's yearling sale season. The three-day William Inglis Easter yearling auction started Tuesday in Newmarket, New South Wales, with a top price of about $1.65omillion for a Redoute's Choice-Egyptian Ibis colt that agent Rob McAnulty purchased from Coolmore Stud.

The colt was one of five horses to bring $1 million or more in Australian funds. At the opening session, 166 yearlings were sold for about $40,707,808. The average price, converted from Australian to American dollars, was about $245,213, the median about $165,150.