09/17/2009 11:00PM

Sale's first week all bad news

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland September yearling sale ended its harrowing first week Thursday night with losses across the board. The nosedive was no less painful for being expected by consignors, and chances of a rebound appeared slim to consignors showing horses for week two's sessions.

The auction's first four sessions, including the Sept. 14-15 select sessions, ended with 703 yearlings sold for $117,659,500. That was a drop of 43 percent from last year's gross for 837 horses. The $167,368 average price was down 32 percent, and the $110,000 median fell 39 percent. Buybacks were 35 percent, well up from last year's 28 percent.

Thursday's session-topper was a $675,000 Storm Cat filly that Scott Ford's Westrock Stable bought.

The filly, Hip No. 926, is out of the Grade 2-placed stakes winner Winendynme by Dynaformer. The dark bay or brown filly was part of the late W. T. Young's Overbrook Farm dispersal, consigned through Eaton Sales.

Westrock also paid $600,000 for a Medaglia d'Oro-Bashful Charmer colt from Dave Parrish's Indian Creek agency. A $630,000 Candy Ride-Heaven's Gate colt from Padraig Campion's Blandford Stud agency also broke the half-million-dollar barrier. Let's Go Stable, the partnership of Kevin Scatuorchio and Bryan Sullivan, bought that one.

Small seller turns big profit

It's a difficult year to have any start-up or developing business, thanks to the economic recession. For relatively new sellers at Keeneland September, the Thoroughbred market's bleak landscape is forcing them to think creatively, and persevere, to survive the downturn.

Wendy Noel started consigning horses herself several years ago. Now, she's employing several strategies to thrive in hard times. Her plan: stay small, focus on quality, partner if necessary, and use a big-name consignment for marketing. That plan paid off Tuesday when Noel's sole 2008 weanling purchase, a $135,000 Medaglia d'Oro-Slewpy's Storm filly, brought $500,000 from Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum.

"I put all my eggs in one basket this year because of the recession," Noel explained. "I just wanted to wait until the market turned around a little bit. I feel this year will be a nice time to go and buy babies, because the prices will be more reasonable.

"But in November, I'll have to be meticulous and set a price I feel a horse is worth, and if it goes past that, then I'll have to turn away. I'll have to be pickier than ever this year."

Noel opted to sell through Taylor Made's agency instead of handling the sale herself.

"I did well selling on my own, but it takes years to build relationships with clients," she said. "If you're selling horses while trying to look at horses to buy, it can be conflicting. So I chose to concentrate on buying for now and let someone else do my selling."

Shawhan Place, in its fourth year at Keeneland September, teamed up with a larger farm, B. Wayne Hughes's Spendthrift, for the 2009 auction. That added horses and cachet to the Shawhan consignment.

"It helps to spread the risk and share the wealth," said Shawhan co-owner, Charles Koch. "We're very happy that Mr. Hughes has taken us under his wing. It makes a good, big name for us selling for Spendthrift. It attracts attention for us."

"It's definitely tougher," said Greg Burchell, whose Crossroad Sales agency is in its third sale season. "The horses have to make the grade, and people have to like everything about them.

"If you don't sell one, you try to find other alternatives: try to sell privately, even give them to somebody. And people are working a lot of deals, letting someone break them for a 2-year-old sale in exchange for half the horse. You have to think outside the box now and come up with alternative plans."

Disabled jockeys get piece of Gio Ponti's pot

Gio Ponti's Aug. 8 Arlington Million win was an unexpected windfall for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. The colt's owner, Castleton Lyons, announced afterwards it would donate 5 percent of his winnings, or $29,400, to the fund, which currently aids 61 former jockeys with some medical and daily living expenses.

The historic Lexington farm presented the check Friday.

"It helps tremendously," said PDJF president Nancy LaSala. "We disburse approximately $63,000 a month in assistance. Gestures like this are phenomenal, because they signify ways different people can come in and support this."

Since its formation in 2006, the PDJF has provided more than $2 million to these injured riders, most of whom have brain injuries or paralysis. The PDJF eventually hopes to create a $14 million endowment, La Sala said.

The PDJF is a 501(c)(3) charity whose website is at www.pdjf.org.