01/07/2003 1:00AM

Would loss of Keeneland sale affect rival?

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - If the Keeneland Association decides to give its July selected sale a one-year hiatus in 2003, an option under consideration as officials ponder the potential effects of the smaller foal crop due to mare reproductive loss syndrome, what will the sale's absence mean for rival Fasig-Tipton?

Even a one-year loss of the boutique July market, which sold 87 horses last year as the top of the market contracted sharply, would leave a substantial hole in the calendar. The auction has been held continuously since 1943, and its storied history includes a world-record $13.1 million yearling price for Seattle Dancer and countless Grade 1 winners. Many believe that Fasig-Tipton's Kentucky yearling sale, a July sale that offers less expensive horses, would suffer simply because high-powered buyers would not bother to come into town without the Keeneland sale to draw them. On the other hand, conventional wisdom says Fasig-Tipton's more fashionable sale in August at Saratoga Springs would likely benefit as consignors look for opportunities to sell well-bred, early yearlings they would otherwise have nominated to Keeneland July.

But Fasig-Tipton executive vice president Boyd Browning believes that a one-year pause at Keeneland would have little overall impact at Fasig-Tipton.

"I really don't think it would have a dramatic effect on either of our two major yearling sales," Browning said. "Our selection criteria and recruitments strategy for our yearling sales have been consistent in the last 10 years, and they will be consistent again in 2003. That's to attract athletic, well-bred, reasonably well-conformed, and good-sized yearlings. We don't start with pedigree, but it's obviously a factor. Our selection process will remain the same.

"I think it's reasonable to assume that a few of the Keeneland July horses would end up in our Saratoga catalog," he added, "but we're fighting the same demon that Keeneland is fighting in MRLS, which has caused a significant reduction in early maturing foals across the board."

The effects of MRLS, which decimated Kentucky's 2002 foal crop by an estimated 20 to 30 percent and caused most losses in mares with early season pregnancies, may ultimately have a larger effect on the marketplace than the temporary loss of a particular sale, Browning said.

The Keeneland July auction has, in fact, become a smaller factor in the overall auction economy. In 1983, the Keeneland July sale yielded $150,950,000 (301 sold), accounting for 39 percent of the year's total yearling marketplace of $390,820,000, according to industry reports. Last year, Keeneland July's $42,385,000 gross, for 87 sold, represented only 11 percent of the season's total yearling market. But last year's average price of $487,184 indicates Keeneland July was a significant piece of the market for elite Thoroughbreds.

Awe That sells for $330,000

Keeneland's five-day January auction continued Tuesday with a $330,000 early leader. Robert Courtney Jr., agent, signed for the session leader, Awe That, a 5-year-old half-sister to Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed Anklet. Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services sold the mare in foal to Gulch on behalf of Stoneway Farm.

As of 5 p.m. Eastern, there was one other lot selling for $300,000 or more, and that was the $300,000 mare Royal Ballerina. Joss Collins's Blandford Bloodstock bought the mare, an Irish champion daughter of Sadler's Wells offered in foal to Fusaichi Pegasus. Eatons Sales, agent, sold the mare.

At Monday's opener, the January sale sold 208 lots for $10,683,200, down 40 percent from last year, when 242 sold for $17,911,800. The opening-day average this year fell 31 percent, from $74,016 to $51,362. But median rose 20 percent, from $25,000 last year to $30,000.

The sale runs through Friday.