04/12/2002 12:00AM

Sale likely to have gains, buy-backs

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's select 2-year-old auction takes place Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., and, if its recent past performances are any indication, the sale may well produce financial gains. But with its largest catalog in several years and the general feast-or-famine trend of recent juvenile auctions, the Keeneland sale could also produce a buy-back rate above 30 percent, which would be in line with the general select juvenile market.

The Keeneland auction, the company's only juvenile sale and in its 10th edition this year, has posted generally improving numbers: Its 1993 inaugural had a $63,556 average price and a median of $45,000, and by last year those figures had risen to a $163,714 average and a $125,000 median.

That has made the Keeneland sale an important stop on the juvenile sale circuit, but it hasn't made the auction immune to the problems that regularly plague select 2-year-old sales. The most notable of those is the buy-back rate. Following the general trend of the market, the Keeneland sale in recent years has seen buy-backs rise, even as sale prices at the top of the market have been in the high six figures (even reaching a record-equaling $2 million in 1999). Since 1998, buy-backs have risen steadily from 26 percent to 38 percent at last year's auction.

From an initial catalog of 248 lots, the sale has been winnowed by withdrawals to 197, making this the largest offering in the last four years. Though the buy-back rate is always of concern at any 2-year-old auction, where buyer selectivity rules the marketplace, Keeneland has an advantage in the strong population of trainers and owners in the state for the track's spring meet and the upcoming Kentucky Derby.

Those attending the auction will find a number of interesting pedigrees on offer, including these:

* Hip No. 52, a Gone West filly out of graded stakes-winner Slew of Pearls;

* Hip No. 53, a Dixieland Band half-brother to Igotrhythm and Slew Gin Fizz;

* Hip No. 60, an Unbridled's Song filly out of Staraway, stakes-winner of more than $460,000;

* Hip No. 67, a Deputy Minister colt out of Grade 1 winner Stormy Blues;

* Hip No. 75, a Spinning World half-brother to Grade 1 winner and producer Spinning Round;

* Hip No. 88, a Favorite Trick half-sister to $660,000 earner Traces of Gold;

* Hip No. 117, a Tabasco Cat half-brother to Canadian champion Apelia;

* Hip No. 153, a Grand Slam colt out of graded stakes-winner De Puntillas;

* Hip No. 155, a Spinning World half-brother to multiple graded winner Mystic Lady;

* Hip No. 172, a Wild Again half-brother to Canadian champion Larkwhistle;

* Hip No. 173, a Pulpit half-brother to Grade 1 winner Hail Atlantis; and

* Hip No. 216, a Silver Deputy filly out of multiple Grade 1 winner Lite Light.