There were all sorts of reasons why horsemen were worried about the Keeneland July yearling sale. The American economy is sluggish. The stock market is volatile. And the Thoroughbred industry is still reeling from setbacks caused by mare reproductive loss syndrome. To make matters worse, the auction had its smallest catalogue ever, with only 164 horses listed.So, it wasn't too surprising when the sale got off to a slow start on July 16, with many of the statistics falling short of last year's comparable figures."It was pretty close to our projections," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales.Based on Keeneland's calculations, the results were as follows:--The number sold, 44, was the same as in 2000's first session.--Gross revenue fell 12.3%, from $29,477,000 last year to $25,847,000 this year.--The average price also dropped 12.3%, from $669,932 to $587,432.--The median price decreased 26.8%, from $512,500 to $375,000.--The buy-back rate rose from 27.9% last year to 36.2% this year, with 25 of the 69 horses offered failing to sell.--The number of horses selling for $1 million or more fell from nine to five. But the highest individual price of $4 million surpassed last year's peak of $2.5 million.Irish veterinarian Demi O'Byrne was the first session's leading buyer, spending $9,025,000 for five yearlings, including the session-topping Saint Ballado colt. Produced from the grade III-winning Batonnier mare Charm a Gendarme, the $4-million yearling is a half-brother to multiple grade I winner Tout Charmant. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, the colt was bred by Aaron and Marie Jones."It's a good market," O'Byrne said. "The consignors made a mistake, didn't they? They should have entered more horses in this sale."O'Byrne's purchases also included a $2.5-million Seattle Slew -- Statuette colt and a $1.65-million Pulpit -- Chancey Squaw filly. The immediate underbidder on all three of O'Byrne's seven-figure yearlings was British bloodstock agent John Ferguson, who represents Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai."We thought the Saint Ballado and the Seattle Slew were the best horses in the sale," O'Byrne said. "We liked the conformation and the pedigree of both of them, and we rated them very highly. He (the Seattle Slew colt) looks like he'll be very fast, and he's mature. The Saint Ballado looks like he'll be a good 2-year-old and a good 3-year-old. His price was a bit more than I thought it would be, but Saint Ballado is doing well as a sire."The Saint Ballado and Seattle Slew colts will be sent to trainer Aidan O'Brien in Ireland. They will be owned by John Magnier and Michael Tabor.The session's highest-priced filly was a half-sister to multiple grade I winner Excellent Meeting. Sold for $2 million, the yearling was sired by Storm Cat and was produced from the 11-year-old Chief's Crown mare Fitted Crown. The filly was consigned by Taylor Made as agent for her breeders, John and Betty Mabee. Her buyer was Brushwood Stable's Elizabeth Moran, who owns Excellent Meeting after aquiring her privately from the Mabees."I think she'll be a good race mare for me, and then I will put her in my broodmare band with her half-sister," said Moran of her $2-million purchase.John Oxley bought the session's only other seven-figure yearling, a $1.35-million Seattle Slew -- Cara Rafaela colt.Prior to the auction's start, 30 of the yearlings catalogued (18.3%) were scratched. Last year, 28 (13.5%) of the 208 horses catalogued were scratched.The defections in 2001 included both of Robert and Beverly Lewis' entries: a Deputy Minister -- Serena's Song colt, and a Gone West -- Storm Beauty filly. The Lewises also will retain most of the yearlings they planned to offer at the Keeneland September sale.
"They have some nice horses, and they've decided to keep them," said Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud, which handles the Lewises' auction consignments. In all, the Lewises will retain and race six of the yearlings of 2001 that they bred, according to Bandoroff. They were active at this year's Keeneland July opening session as buyers, spending $1,685,000 for three yearlings.Satish and Anne Sanan of Padua Stables, last year's leading July buyers by gross and number of yearlings acquired, did not make a purchase in this year's opening session.The two-session auction ends today.Results, bloodhorse.com