09/24/2006 11:00PM

Records fell at Keeneland sale

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Keeneland's 2006 September yearling sale was a record-breaker before it even started, setting a mark for horses offered, with 5,161 yearlings in its catalog. When it ended Monday afternoon, the 14-day auction had set five more records, for gross, top price, average, median, and number sold.

When the hammer fell Monday on the sale's final lot, the company had grossed $399,791,800 for 3,556 yearlings, setting a new world record for total revenue. The auction's average of $112,427 and $45,000 median were sale records. All of those figures beat records set at the 2005 Keeneland September auction, which sold 3,545 yearlings for $384,349,900, yielding a $108,420 average and a $40,000 median.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum grabbed the sale's biggest headline at its second session Sept. 12, when he purchased a Kingmambo-Crown of Crimson colt for a sale-record $11.7 million; Coolmore Stud owner John Magnier, who dueled often with Maktoum on September yearlings, was the underbidder. The sale-topper was part of an astonishing spending spree by Maktoum, who bought 34 yearlings from the auction for a total of $59,945,000. Burleson Farms, agent, sold the top colt on behalf of Richard Santulli and George Prussin's Jayeff B Stables.

The action's top filly was a $3.2 million Seeking the Gold-Take Charge Lady filly that Todd Pletcher, agent, bought from the Eaton Sales agency.

Those were two of 32 horses that sold for $1 million or more at the 2006 auction. That was down from last year, when 40 horses sold for $1 million or more. The buyback rate rose only slightly this year, climbing from 21.4 percent last season to 22 percent.

The September auction's later days lacked the sizzle of the two select sessions, but they had more relevance for the vast majority of commercial breeders who sell into the broad middle market. Happily for those breeders and consignors, the prices remained healthy deep into the sale, partly because of a trickle-down effect from the extraordinarily high early prices and to the participation of a broad base of domestic and foreign buyers.

"The middle market has gotten deeper and broader," said Keeneland's sales director, Geoffrey Russell. "That is the strongest element of this market."

Russell found a number of factors to credit for the increase in yearling prices throughout much of the September yearling market: the prospects of slots in some states; the success of resellers, or "pinhookers," in the 2006 juvenile sales; and an attractive exchange rate for European-based buyers.

Do the massive prices from the Maktoum-Magnier battles help the market overall? Russell said he thinks they do.

"The confidence level that book one generates passes on to books two, three, and four," he said, referring to the sale catalogs, each of which contains two days' worth of horses. "The confidence in books three to five passes on to books six and seven. We like that roll-on effect. Sometimes is works, sometimes it doesn't. This year it has worked quite well."