11/13/2009 1:00AM

Sale rallies as gross rises

Photos by Z/Keeneland
A $350,000 weanling Unbridled's Song filly.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Several high prices late in the session helped Keeneland's November breeding stock sale turn out a gain in gross for the second consecutive day on Thursday.

An $875,000 mare from the highly prized Overbrook Farm dispersal topped Thursday's session on a final bid from Ken Troutt and Bill Casner's WinStar Farm. Overbrook Farm's 38-horse consignment on Wednesday helped fuel gains in gross and median, despite a generally slack Thoroughbred marketplace. The late W. T. Young's bloodstock was a boon again on Thursday, although it could not entirely offset declines in average and median.

The $875,000 mare was Lasting Appeal, a 4-year-old A. P. Indy mare and Overbrook homebred offered in foal to Awesome Again.

Eaton Sales, agent, sold the mare on behalf of Overbrook.

The session ended with 252 horses sold for $26,833,000, up 9 percent from last year's aggregate for 224 horses. The session average wilted slightly, falling 3 percent to $106,480, but median dropped harder, by 9 percent, to hit $75,000. The session's buy-back rate fell from 28 percent in 2008 to 19 percent.

Cumulatively, the 13-session auction's first three days sold 547 horses for a combined $98,484,500, a fall of 14 percent from last year's gross receipts for 523 horses. The three-day average of $180,045 was down by 18 percent, and the $110,000 median represented a decline of 12 percent. The cumulative buy-back rate fell from 33 percent to 21 percent.

Also selling late were the session's two other horses to bring more than $400,000. They were Hip No. 863, the $510,000 Storm Cat mare Katz Me If You Can, a graded winner cataloged in foal to Indian Charlie, and Hip No. 866, the Nursery Place agency's $420,000 stakes-placed broodmare Keladora, offered in foal to Dixie Union. Whisper Hill Farm purchased 12-year-old Katz Me If You Can, and Blandford Bloodstock bought Keladora, a 6-year-old Crafty Prospector mare.

"This is cash money," said Glenmalure Farm owner Peter Kirwan. "Everybody here who's buying has the money, because the banks aren't lending anymore, unfortunately. So hopefully we're at the bottom of the market and there are better times ahead."

Weanlings continued to be popular with many different types of buyers - racehorse buyers, breeders, and weanling-to-yearling resellers, called pinhookers. For racing stables, weanlings presented the downside of a longer wait to break and train, but they were cheaper than many quality yearlings and they offered an investment opportunity for resale in 2010. Resale potential also drew breeders eager to avoid costly stud fees and the two years of expense it takes to raise a foal from fetus to auction yearling.

Also popular Thursday: winning fillies with racing days still ahead of them. These, too, offered resale or earning potential. For longer-term investors like commercial breeders, such fillies were future broodmare prospects that could provide some racing fun and then eventually be bred to produce a yearling in time, their buyers hoped, for that market's recovery.

However, that was not the case for Saskawea, a Stormy Atlantic stakes winner that Hill 'n' Dale, agent, sold to Vision Sales for $280,000. Vision has a racing operation, and the 5-year-old mare had been cataloged as a racing or broodmare prospect, but Vision principal Brandon Perry said they would retire her instead. Saskawea is graded-placed and has more than $600,000 in earnings. Her price put her in the upper echelon of Thursday's mares.

"It's tough for horses you want to buy, whether that's babies or mares," Perry said of the market. "We've tried to buy a lot of horses."

The sale was to continue at Keeneland through Nov. 22, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. daily.