11/06/2009 12:00AM

Stronger market the hope at mixed sales

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - It has been a difficult season for many Thoroughbred yearling sellers. Global economies are gradually emerging from the worst economic recession in half a century, but the Thoroughbred marketplace is still struggling to clear its oversupply when many buyers are feeling especially tight-fisted. Despite a few bright exceptions, North American yearling auctions generally lost from 15 to 30 percent in average price and from 25 to 40 percent in median in 2009.

Those are sobering trends for Kentucky's upcoming November mixed sales. The auctions open Tuesday with a 10 a.m. session at Keeneland and a 5 p.m. session at Fasig-Tipton. The sales then continue at Keeneland alone from Nov. 11-22.

Lower yearling prices usually mean commercial Thoroughbred breeders will cut spending for new broodmares. But executives at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton say they hope a combination of smaller catalogs, foreign buyers, weanling-to-yearling resellers, and wealthy breeders lured by lower prices will hedge against severe downturns.

Commercial Thoroughbred breeders, traditionally the market stalwarts at Kentucky's breeding stock sales, remain the big question this year. The world's largest yearling sale, Keeneland's two-week September auction, battered many: Average dropped 33 percent, and median plummeted 41 percent.

"The fact is that the September yearling sale leads into the November sale," Keeneland sale director Geoffrey Russell acknowledged, "and when people make money in September they reinvest. But the weanling-to-yearling pinhookers did better than pretty much any other segment of the market, so we would foresee those domestic buyers coming back. I would still think there's an element of our domestic market that will be strong for broodmares. Some people have cash when others don't, and they'll take advantage of it."

Last year, Keeneland endured staggering declines: Gross fell 46 percent, average sank 39 percent, and median lost 43 percent. This year, the catalog is 18 percent smaller with 4,702 horses. Russell is hopeful American bloodstock's reputation for quality will attract buyers from areas with rebounding economies like Australia and Mexico.

Dispersals by Overbrook and Windfields put some valuable animals in Keeneland's catalog. Overbrook's group includes champions Flanders (Hip No. 439) in foal to Bernardini, her champion daughter Surfside (316) in foal to Giant's Causeway. It also includes Honest Pursuit, a winning 4-year-old granddaughter of the great producer Toussaud. She's offered as a racing or broodmare prospect.

From Windfields there's Sweet and Careless (318), dam of Careless Jewel and carrying a full sibling, and her weanling Elusive Quality colt (319).

Adena Springs offers 22, including Romance Is Diane (59), in foal to Ghostzapper; Dearest Trickski (181), in foal to Ghostzapper; Elloluv (193), in foal to El Prado; Intangaroo (225), in foal to Medaglia d'Oro; millionaire Somethinaboutlaura (84), in foal to Ghostzapper; and Nasty Storm (28), in foal to Tiznow .

Other Grade 1 winners include Shine Again (73), in foal to Bernardini: Irish Smoke (226), in foal to Big Brown; Golden Doc A (212), a racing or broodmare prospect; and Cotton Blossom (413), in foal to Street Cry.

Keeneland also has 2002 Horse the Year Azeri (148), a $4.4 million buyback at the 2009 Keeneland January sale. She is in foal to Distorted Humor.

Both Russell and Fasig-Tipton CEO Boyd Browning say they hope buyers will see the softer market conditions as an incentive.

Fasig-Tipton's one-day catalog has shrunk 19 percent to 153 this season. Last year's dissolution of Southern Equine's partnership with Hill 'n' Dale Farm produced, among other multi-million-dollar prices, the world-record $14 million sale of Better Than Honour to Southern Equine, and contributed to increases of 35 percent in gross, 59 percent in average, and 39 percent in median.

Browning is under no illusion that Fasig-Tipton's November sale will do that again in 2009.

But the sale's small catalog of select stock allows it to play to the market's strongest area.

"Clearly, the market is in transition," Browning said. "The good news for us is that this one sale in particular is probably as insulated from the market changes as any because of its small size and its emphasis on quality, not quantity. Traditionally, there's a flight to quality when times get a little more difficult."

Adena Springs is prominent at Fasig-Tipton with Sugar Shake (23) and Ginger Punch (90), both in foal to Bernardini; Honey Ryder (97), in foal to Ghostzapper; and Lady Joanne (109), in foal to Tiznow .

Other mares include My White Corvette (135), dam of Stardom Bound, in foal to Unbridled's Song; Private Feeling (146), dam of Lookin at Lucky, in foal to Mr. Greeley; Sweet Trip (27), dam of Rail Trip, in foal to Tapit; Temperence Gift (28), dam of Gozzip Girl, in foal to Medaglia d'Oro; Black Mamba (56), a racing or broodmare prospect; Diamond Diva (72) and Diamondrella (73); Holiday Runner (96), dam of Seventh Street, in foal to Tiznow; Laragh (113); Magical Fantasy (120); and Mani Bhavan (123).

Also on offer is Red Rocks (151), 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf winner and $2 million earner, as a stallion prospect.

"We're doing everything we can to make the market as positive as we can," said Browning, "but revenues for most participants in the Thoroughbred industry are going to be down in 2009 versus 2008."