11/28/2008 12:00AM

Weaker pound prompts hope for sale

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The Tattersalls December breeding stock sale will take place in challenging economic circumstances, but company executives hope American bidders will help blunt any downturn.

The English auction, one of the most important broodmare and filly sales on the international calendar, takes place Dec. 1-4, in the midst of a global economic crisis that has helped drive Thoroughbred markets down by 40 percent or more since late September. But the historic Newmarket-based sale company still expects lively international trade for the catalog's numerous group or graded winners and producers.

"Obviously, we live in very different times to even the recent past," acknowledged Tattersalls marketing director Jimmy George. "Having said that, we have a strong catalog with a lot of international appeal, and, as far as the currency, sterling is at a very favorable rate compared to last year's versus other major currencies around the world."

Last year, for every pound they paid for a horse, American buyers forked out almost two dollars. That rate is down to about $1.52 now. Also doing well versus the pound are the Japanese yen and the euro. Combined with steeply falling prices for bloodstock, that could spell bargains for foreign buyers with ready cash to invest in their broodmare bands.

"I think we'll see a solid American presence here," George said. "The synthetic revolution adds a whole new dimension to North American purchases. Nowadays, those fillies you can race on with, formerly on the turf, can cross over to a synthetic surface, as we saw most spectacularly at the Breeders' Cup."

The broodmare and broodmare or racing prospects on offer include several Group 1 winners, and how they sell - whether for a premium or a discount as compared to price levels in recent years - will be an indication of how strong or weak the market's upper reaches are in the current economy.

Last year, the top of the market performed very well, with several horses bringing more than 3 million guineas and the sale-topping mare, Satwa Queen, fetching a European record of 3.4 million guineas, about $5,462,100 at today's exchange rate. The 2007 auction's gross increased 5 percent, and the average price rose 20 percent to 91,356 guineas, or approximately $146,763 at today's rate. There were some signs of weakness, as median dipped 23 percent and buybacks climbed from 29 percent to 33 percent. This year, few expect the auction to outperform last year's numbers in the current financial climate.

The December catalog offers a lot to choose from, with more than 1,200 horses. But if Keeneland's November sale was any indication, the young racing and broodmare prospects might have the most appeal. This is an era where buyers like to know they can get a quick return at the races before retiring a promising filly to the broodmare band.

One potential sale-topper is dual Group 1 winner Saoirse Abu, who also is a likely target for American bidders. The 3-year-old filly is by Mr. Greeley, a sought-after sire here, and she is from the family of Balanchine and Radu Cool.

Other 3-year-old fillies still in training include Lady Marian, a French Group 1 winner by Nayef; Natagora, a Divine Light-Reinamixa filly whose Group 1 wins include the 1000 Guineas this year; and English classic-placed Unsung Heroine, by High Chaparral. Juvenile fillies being sold include Group 2 winners Lahaleeb and Madame Trop Vite.

The catalog's established broodmares include Rahayeb, the dam of American Grade 1 winner Lahudood and selling in foal to Pivotal. A less familiar pedigree but an accomplished broodmare record comes with Hip No. 1924, Sacarina. The daughter of Old Vic is the dam of three Group 1 winners: Schiaparelli, Samum, and Salve Regina.

The sale can be seen live on the Tattersalls website at www.tattersalls.com.