09/09/2004 11:00PM

Record catalog offers many market options

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's epic September yearling market opens Monday, and the sale company and consignors alike are hoping that the 14-day auction will maintain the summer's trend of healthy prices for yearlings.

The Keeneland September sale, which cataloged a record 4,891 yearlings this year, encompasses every part of the market and traditionally attracts a wide array of buyers. The yearling sale season started at Fasig-Tipton's July sale in Kentucky, where new players contributed to buoyant financial numbers. Keeneland's large catalog could capitalize on new buyers' interest in two ways. First, the sale has something for everyone, starting with blue-chip stock at the Sept. 13-14 select sessions. Second, the sheer scope of the catalog makes bargains more likely than at smaller sales, where buyers tend to compete over a handful of select horses, driving the prices up.

"The early credit applications have been strong," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. "We're processing more than we did last year, and there are some new accounts for people I haven't seen on summaries from other sales. The majority of those seem to be falling in the mid- to high six-figure range, which is a very positive sign."

Keeneland aggressively recruited buyers, Russell said, including sending one executive to the former Russian republics and the Far East.

Last year's September sale produced a staggering 45 percent increase in average price ($387,168) and 35 percent upswing in the median ($230,000) for Keeneland's two select sessions. The average and median prices for the sale overall - $92,329 and $34,000, respectively - were records for the auction. That might be a hard act to follow. But the auction this year includes some of the bluest blood on offer at public sale, which could tempt major market players to duel each other over a few, ultra-select lots. Even with moderate declines off last year's select figures, the auction could perform solidly.

"It would be greedy to think we could have increases like that again," Russell said. "We'd like to maintain this year."

One factor that could keep Keeneland on or above the level this year is a larger group of middle-market horses who could appeal to a large number of bidders.

"The middle market here has broadened considerably," said Russell. "This year, the middle market extends from book two of the catalog to book five, and even part of book six."

The auction's select portion consists of 492 cataloged lots and features some of the Thoroughbred sport's most regal bloodlines.

Sires to get instant online analysis

For participants in the commercial breeding game, the Keeneland September sale isn't just about yearlings. It's also very much about stallions - and especially first-crop sires. The catalog's freshmen include Albert the Great, Aptitude, Brahms, Broken Vow, Ecton Park, El Corredor, Five Star Day, Fantastic Light, Forest Camp, Galileo, Monarchos, Point Given, Songandaprayer, Tiznow, and Trippi, among others.

With its vast catalog, the auction provides a large sample of yearlings for many sires, and breeders and stallion owners pore over those yearlings' average and median prices.

This year, they can do it even faster, thanks to a new Internet service called SireAverages.com, which will offer real-time average and median prices for stallion progeny. The service will be free for the first three days of the Keeneland sale. After that, it will be available only for Racing Update subscribers.

Information about average and median prices is important for industry players. Stallion owners use it as a factor in determining stud fees, commercial breeders consider it when making mating choices, consignors consider it when setting reserves, and buyers like to estimate how much they might have to bid to secure a stallion's progeny.

SireAverages.com will also provide commercial histories of sale horses' dams, as well as average-price and results information from sales.

Floridians traveling early

Florida-based sellers were thinking ahead as Hurricane Ivan, a Category 4 storm on Friday, headed for the Sunshine State.

Geoffrey Russell said Keeneland was helping Florida horsemen arrange shipment to Kentucky earlier than usual. Ocala suffered widespread power outages and road closures last week when Hurricane Frances hit, and breeders are determined not to let the next storm prevent them from getting their wares to the important Keeneland sale. Florida is Keeneland's second-largest market base, according to Russell.

"We've been talking to van companies and various Kentucky farms to get horses up here and in stalls," Russell said. "There is limited stall space here while the sale is on, and the farms and van companies have been very helpful and generous."