01/04/2008 1:00AM

Weak dollar likely to boost January sale


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's January all-ages auction, set for Monday through Jan. 13, already has bucked one recent sale trend: it has a smaller catalog than last year, slimming down its entries by 386 horses. Keeneland consignors and the company's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, hope the smaller catalog will help the sale continue a second trend, that of high prices for mares and broodmare prospects.

"This sale has identified itself as a market on its own," Russell said of the January auction. "It used to be kind of an afterthought, but I think now people see it as a good place to sell broodmare prospects closer to the breeding season. It's formed its own niche in the market."

The bulk of the January sale's 2,547-horse catalog consists of mares, with 1,201 nominated, but the catalog also features an array of other horses, such as yearlings and horses of racing age. If Keeneland's November 2007 mixed sale was any indication, mares and broodmare prospects will draw the biggest interest from buyers. The November auction produced a world-record price for a mare when Playful Act sold to Darley for $10.5 million, and ended with a record-equaling median of $35,000 and its second-highest average of $100,821. It achieved those figures despite starting with its largest-ever catalog of 5,415 horses.

Those high figures indicate a strong demand for mares that is likely to carry over to some degree in January, especially among buyers from outside Kentucky who were unable to purchase breeding stock at November's high prices, said Russell.

"Because November was so strong, I think our regional buyers haven't fulfilled all their requirements, so I think they'll be here," he said, "and I've already heard from our prominent overseas buyers, who are saying they'll be back."

As in November, the January sale should benefit from the dollar's weakness against foreign currencies from important international markets like Europe and the United Kingdom.

"In 2007, I think everybody expected a major correction in the market, which didn't happen here in Kentucky," Russell said. "I think the reason for that was that the dollar is so weak. That, I think, will continue into the January sale, where we should have a good cross-section of international buyers from Australia, Europe, South America. That will give us a good safety net.

"But we can't always rely on the weakness of the dollar to promote our product."

This sentiment echoed a warning Russell made this fall that overproduction was beginning to damage market health overall. The chairmen of Tattersalls in England and Goffs in Ireland, where currency rates were not so favorable for buyers, reiterated that message later in the fall after their mixed auctions saw the feared "correction," with declining demand for lower-middle-market stock. Overproduction remains a concern in 2008, Russell said, and it's one reason Keeneland officials find a slimmer January catalog a hopeful, rather than a disappointing, sign.

Citing recent Blood-Horse statistics showing that 58 percent of 2007 North American yearlings sold for less than $20,000, Russell said: "That's a problem. People need to understand that and look at it carefully."

The January sale traditionally spins off lower sale-topping prices than those seen in November, and that will likely hold true again this year. Point Ashley sold for $1.8 million to top last year's eight-day sale, which had a $39,134 average (down 12 percent from 2006) and a $15,000 median (down 6 percent).

But the catalog does feature some very appealing offerings that are bound to attract bidding. One small but powerful consignment is Claiborne's group of horses owned by the late Cynthia Phipps, who died last year. The complete dispersal includes multiple Grade 1 winner Versailles Treaty (Hip No. 482), the dam of Grade 1 performer Saarland and offered in foal to Unbridled's Song. Selling immediately after her is her Empire Maker filly. Also in the Phipps group is Preservation Hall, a 6-year-old Dixieland Band mare out of Gold Fever's dam, Lead Kindly Light.

Another star on offer is Hip No. 284, Irish Cherry, the dam of Grade 1 winners Spun Sugar and Daaher, in foal this year to Ghostzapper. Among numerous other mares with Grade 1 connections are Hip No. 21, Premium Red, dam of Premium Tap in foal to First Samurai; Hip No. 318, Lyphard Gal, dam of Heritage of Gold; Hip No. 329, Mercenary Hawk, dam of Thunder Days, in foal to Strong Hope; Hip No. 365, Grade 1 winner November Snow, in foal to Mineshaft; and Hip No. 140, Octave's half-sister Yankee Belle.

Sessions begin daily at 10 a.m.

Adena Springs still on top

For the fifth consecutive year, Frank Stronach's Adena Springs operation was the top North American breeder by earnings, according to statistics compiled by The Jockey Club Information Systems for the 2007 racing season.

In 2007, Adena Springs individually bred the winners of 538 races for earnings of $18,055,772, placing it ahead of second-ranked Sez Who Thoroughbreds, which bred the winners of 291 races for $7,856,427 in earnings. Adena-breds made 3,479 starts last year, as compared to 2,059 for Sez Who-breds.

Completing the top 10 list of individual breeders are Farnsworth Farms with $6,350,751; Mr. and Mrs. Martin J. Wygod, $6,318,155; Eugene Melnyk, $5,874,095; Fares Farm, $5,155,253; Kenneth and Sarah K. Ramsey, $4,981,442; Brereton C. Jones, $4,659,137; the late John Franks, $3,985,679; and Arthur I. Appleton, $3,782,956.

When partnerships are included, Adena Springs shows earnings of $18,057,205 from 538 wins in 3,482 starts. In second is W. S. Farish with $7,753,709 from 238 wins in 1,533 starts. The other top 10 breeders, including partnerships where applicable, are Farnsworth Farms, $7,124,144; Mr. and Mrs. Martin J. Wygod, $6,318,155; Eugene Melnyk, $5,874,095; Fares Farm, $5,155,253; Brereton C. Jones, $5,058,149; Kenneth Ramsey, $4,981,442; and Sarah K. Ramsey, $4,981,442.

* Grade 1 winner Buddha - sire of 2007 stakes winners Hisse, Buddha Lady, and Glorification - has relocated from Hill 'n' Dale Farm in Lexington to Pin Oak Lane Farm in New Freedom, Pa. The 9-year-old Unbridled's Song horse will stand for $5,000, or $3,500 for breeders bringing two or more mares to him. From three crops of racing age, Buddha has progeny earnings of more than $1.8 million.

* Students in Darley's Flying Start scholarship program, a two-year international management training program for the Thoroughbred industry, began their seven-month Kentucky course on Tuesday. The 12 students will study a range of topics, from farriery to equine law, and will have training at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, Jonabell Farm, and Gainsborough Farm. Darley Flying Start is accepting applications for 2008 now; the deadline is Feb. 22. More information is available at www.darleyflyingstart.com.