11/08/2006 12:00AM

Young broodmares command top dollar

Eleanor Gustafson/Horsephotos
Although she is an unproven producer, 5-year-old Madcap Escapade (right) brought far more at auction than her 14-year-old dam, Sassy Pants.

"Our plan is to keep her in training and then breed her to Storm Cat," Waldman said.

Friel's for Real was the latest in a string of young mares, either unmated or with no foals to race, to command big prices at Kentucky's November sales. On Monday and Tuesday, 18 of the sessions' 23 fillies and mares that brought $1 million or more were age 6 or younger. Those included the auction's top mare so far, 5-year-old Madcap Escapade, who brought a $6 million bid from Hill 'n' Dale Bloodstock; her 14-year-old dam Sassy Pants, by contrast, brought $4.5 million despite having produced a pair of Grade 1 winners.

Hill 'n' Dale owner John Sikura, who also bought Sassy Pants, noted that one reason older mares - even proven ones - may bring less is biological.

"The life expectancy for a mare's productive career, well, 10 to 12 foals is a lot of foals," he said.

Commercial breeders, in particular, want as many chances at foals as possible to make their investment worthwhile over the long term.

Friel's for Real is just 6, and has little down side. She is still capable of winning, as she proved in her last start before the auction. And if Overbrook decides to sell any of her future offspring, they will have several years to do it before any runners out of Friel's for Real have any chance to tarnish her reputation by running badly. Even if she never wins again, Friel's for Real already has established herself as a quality mare with her five stakes wins, one in the Grade 3 Pimlico Breeders' Cup Distaff Handicap, and earnings of $674,544.

Her pedigree, too, already has established its quality. Friel's for Real's full brother is a stakes winner, and her family also includes such black-type names as Ivanavinalot, Shananie's Beat, and Slick Lady.

That, says commercial breeder Martha Jane Mulholland, is the kind of mare everyone wants today.

"This is a blue-sky business," she said. "Every mare can produce a wonderful stakes horse until it's proven that she can't. A young mare has it all in front of her, and if she has a pretty first foal, the yearling buyers will think, 'Wow, this yearling could be anything.' "

And breeders aren't just reacting to future market demands.

"You can't get a mare to a nice stud if she hasn't produced well in her first or second year," Mulholland said. "The first couple of foals out of a mare had better come out running. I think people sometimes are too quick to give up on mares, just like people are sometimes too quick to give up on a stallion if he doesn't do well in his first couple of years."

Two weanlings set records

Weanling prices have also been high at Keeneland November. On Tuesday, the auction set a North American weanling record price when a Montjeu-Elbaaha colt brought $2.7 million from an unidentified Japanese client. Another weanling, a $2.4 million Gone West-Islington filly sold to Alberto Abago (M.A.B. Agency, agent) and set a Keeneland record for a weanling filly.

Both the Japanese buyer and Abago are so-called end-users, people who buy to race rather than to resell. Why would they pay record premiums, not to mention feed and vet bills, for a horse that won't even come to the races until age 2? To avoid paying even more money for the horses at the yearling sales, their agents say.

The Japanese buyer and Abago aren't the only ones with that idea, either, and as more owners take a plunge on weanlings, the prices have gone up much as they have at the yearling sales, though not to the same extent.

"If you've got $1 million to $2 million to spend at the yearling sales, it's hard to compete when you come up against the whole world of yearling buyers at those sales," said Lincoln Collins, who bought a $1.05 million Giant's Causeway colt for My MeadowView Farm at Keeneland. "That's not to say it's not risky to buy weanlings, because weanlings can change. But a very, very nice yearling with a proper pedigree always makes more than a very, very nice weanling with a proper pedigree."

* Gainesway Farm stallion Mr. Greeley, who stood for $35,000 this season, will stand for $75,000 in 2007. His progeny include top-five second-year sire El Corredor.

* War Front, retired to Claiborne Farm after the Breeders' Cup Sprint, will stand for $12,500 in 2007.