11/18/2005 12:00AM

Sale remained steady thanks to market depth

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Bill Straus
The mare Win's Fair Lady sold for $2.2 million, giving the November sale an early boost.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - As the massive Keeneland November sale drew to a close Friday, the amount of six-figure lots dwindled, but interest in the sale continued.

Geoffrey Russell, director of sales at Keeneland, said the sales market was strong because "central Kentucky is the commercial capital of the Thoroughbred worldwide."

"What makes Kentucky so special is that we supply bloodstock to the whole world," he said. "We have sold to people from 38 countries and 47 states."

Kitty Taylor of Warrendale Sales, who sold from books 1-6, said: "It was a great sale. It had strength and depth from beginning to end. Everyone gets a little nervous before the sales, but it was more of the same that we were seeing in September. Especially with foals, there were a lot of outs based on the thought that they couldn't replace what they had, or they looked at the [pre-sale] X-rays and decided to wait and market them later."

The vigorous nature of the market, especially for horses offered during the second week of the auction, surprised some observers, including Pam Robinson, owner of Brandywine Farm in Kentucky and a buyer and seller in November.

"I think the market is quite strong, but due to the breadth of this market, I believe there is a horse to suit each person's need," she said. "Naturally, their needs and desires differ, depending on the regional or international markets they are from, and economic conditions in different locales will cause different sub-markets, if you will, to ebb and flow in their demand."

Despite the inherent challenges of selling horses and the chance that an economic downturn could damage an otherwise sound marketplace, Robinson said she remains optimistic.

"I believe that we will have a flourishing market going forward for the next several years," she said. "As long as the business exists and I can still play, I will be there. The people who are in the game because they love it will be here next year and the year after, and from the economic trends, there are going to be a sufficient number of people making money and continuing to reinvest in the marketplace next year."

The market strength in Kentucky required buyers from regional programs to adjust either their budgets or their expectations.

"To buy in this market for use in Louisiana, we have been able to buy good mares whose foals will resell well in our market," said Jay Adcock, owner of Red River Farms in Louisiana. "To buy in the market this year, we had to step up in what we had been willing to pay. All the best mares we bought are young, carrying their first or second foals, and have good race records."

Those mares, however, do not come inexpensively. Adcock and other regional buyers had to add 50 percent to 100 percent to their accustomed budgets to compete for the mares they wanted in the current November sale market.

"To buy a young mare with a little race record and a good family was very difficult," said Adcock. "Even the broodmare prospects sold pretty well, even though they weren't yet in foal. To my eye, the weanlings by young horses oversell. It is still a little unusual to me because the unproven stock will outsell weanlings by proven horses."

The economic vitality that is created by the money spent on the sales and by horse people from around the world also caught Adcock's attention. "We are in a disaster area down there [in Louisiana], but it is amazing to see the volume of money being reinvested in the Lexington area in houses and businesses, not just horses," he said. "You all will run out of horses before they run out of money."

The magnitude of the sums spent slackened somewhat as the sale went on, but for the right horses, money was available throughout the sale for good individuals and for horses with current updates in their immediate family.

Since entries for the November sale close at the beginning of August, placement of horses takes place well before much of the important fall racing. As a result, some horses later in the auction have tremendous catalog updates by sales time. The most notable of these was Summer Scene, a half-sister to Stevie Wonderboy who was cataloged on day 10 of the sale.

Summer Scene's placement did not deter bidders, however. "Every major buyer in the world has a representative within an hour of central Kentucky," said Russell.

When Summer Scene went through the Keeneland ring on Wednesday, she brought $600,000 from Winchell Thoroughbreds.

A 5-year-old by Belong to Me out of Heat Lightning, by Summer Squall, Summer Scene is in foal to Mizzen Mast and carrying her first foal. Clearly, the consignor, Mill Ridge Sales, and high-end buyers were all on the same page about this young mare, and she brought top dollar.