Like War Emblem in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), the Keeneland July select yearling sale stumbled out of the starting gate. By every economic measure, the opening session on July 15 failed to keep pace with last year.The gross revenue plunged 39.1%. The average dropped 34.6%. And the median fell 22.7%.The buyback rate was a brutal 47.4%, with 37 of the 78 horses offered failing to find new homes. Consignors scratched 22% of the 100 yearlings catalogued in the first session."It feels pretty scary," said Bill Farish of Lane's End. "These are unsure times around the world, with the stock market and everything else. And this is the first day of the first yearling sale of the year, so I think people are a little bit cautious."The extended slide of the stock market was the most popular scapegoat with horsemen looking to explain Keeneland's huge setback. The day the July sale opened, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by nearly 440 points before bargain hunters started making a move late in the afternoon. It closed down by 45.34 points (at 8,639.19), a moderate loss.But some shoppers mentioned another reason, saying the quality of the July stock during the first session did not meet their expectations."This is select sale; people want select horses, and they weren't necessarily here tonight," said Headley Bell of Nicoma Bloodstock. "Tomorrow night should be better. There's more depth in the catalogue."Details of the first session: -- The number sold slipped 6.8%, from 44 last year to 41 this year. -- Gross revenue fell from $25,847,000 to $15,740,000. -- The average dropped from $587,432 to $383,902. -- The median decreased from $375,000 to $290,000. -- The number of horses selling for $1 million or more fell from five to two while the highest individual price dropped from $4 million to $2 million."We're disappointed," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "I don't think we came into this sale expecting an increase in average, but we didn't see ourselves taking this big of a hit."But not everyone was surprised."It was not unexpected," said consignor Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales. "The vet work before the sale told us it was going to be hit or miss. Some horses would be vetted 10 times and others not at all. They (the buyers) were all after the same ones."The $2-million session topper was a chestnut Belong to Me filly, the first foal out of the multiple grade I winner Tomisue's Delight (by A.P. Indy). John Ferguson purchased her for Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, beating out pharmaceutical executive Eugene Melnyk. Bred in Kentucky by Hilbert Thoroughbreds, she was consigned to the auction by Lane's End."She's a top filly with a top pedigree and that's what we look for," Ferguson said. "Sheikh Mohammed might decide to send her to California next year."The second highest-priced yearling was Primewest, who sold for $1.35 million. Consigned by Lane's End, the daughter of Gone West is out of the 11-year-old Deputy Minister mare Primedex. Her buyers were W. T. Young's Overbrook Farm and Bob and Beverly Lewis. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas signed the ticket."She's just a magnificent filly," Bob Lewis said. "She has a beautiful body and conformation. All you have to do is look at her (catalogue) page; she's just unbelievable in terms of her breeding."Bred in Kentucky by Frank and Jane Lyon's Summer Wind Farm, Primewest is a half-sister to grade II stakes winner Prime Directive (by Tactical Advantage) and Japanese added-money winner Maltese Superb (by With Approval).Notably absent from the sale was Prince Ahmed Salman of The Thoroughbred Corp. Trainer Bob Baffert, who trains Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) winner War Emblem for the Saudi prince, indicated his client would not be buying in July. Last year, The Thoroughbred Corp. was the third-leading spender at the auction, paying $5,650,000 for seven yearlings."He likes coming to sales, especially when he is also selling, and he's not selling anything this year in July," Baffert said. "I think he will concentrate on the (Keeneland) September sale."Irish bloodstock agent Demi O'Byrne attended the opening session with the Coolmore Stud team, but did not sign a ticket. Last year, O'Byrne was the second-leading buyer, paying $9,675,000 for six yearlings.The July sale's second and final session is at 7:30 p.m. today.
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