Society Selection, hip 43, at the Keeneland November sale.

Society Selection, hip 43, at the Keeneland November sale.

Joe DiOrio

Gross, Average Rise in Keeneland Opener

Three horses bring $1 million or more compared to one last year.

With a large international cast of buyers in attendance following the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at nearby Churchill Downs, the Keeneland November breeding stock sale got off to what the company’s director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, called a “solid start.”

The gross rose 48.2% from a year ago Nov. 8 in Lexington as 45.2% more horses were sold, and the average price increased 2.1%. The buy-back rate declined to 19.4% from 31.9% in 2009.

The median price, meanwhile, dropped 12.5%, which indicated “the top horses are getting an extra premium at the moment,” according to Russell. Three horses sold for seven-figure prices compared to one last year, and 15 brought $500,000 or more, six more than in 2009.

“It seemed to be a continuation of last night (at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select mixed sale),” said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency. “It was feast or famine to a certain degree.”

The session grossed $38,970,000 for the 183 horses that sold. The average was $212,951 and the median was $140,000.

Prior to the auction, Keeneland officials were expecting a high level of interest from foreign buyers whose countries’ financial situations have improved faster than America’s economy in the wake of a global financial crisis “and we have seen them participate,” Russell said. “The list of top buyers is very international in nature – Irish, French, Australian, and Japanese. But what has surprised most of us is that the domestic market has been stronger than expected. We feel the industry benefits when the Breeders’ Cup is held locally. It draws more buyers, both internationally and domestically.”

Grade I winner Society Selection, a broodmare, topped the first session, bringing $1.85 million. Aisling Duignan, the director of sales for Ireland-based Coolmore Stud’s American division, Ashford Stud, purchased the 9-year-old grade I-winning daughter of Coronado's Quest as agent. Duignan said Society Selection would join Coolmore’s broodmare band.

The immediate underbidder was Kentucky-based bloodstock agent Lincoln Collins.

“Obviously we liked her a lot,” said Duignan. “She had all the criteria really, didn’t she? She was a great race filly; she has a great pedigree.”

Society Selection will be sent to Ashford near Versailles, Ky. and will be bred to farm stallion Giant's Causeway  in 2011.

Produced from grade III winner Love That Jazz (by Dixieland Band) and in foal to Medaglia d'Oro , Society Selection captured five added-money events, including the 2003 Frizette Stakes (gr. I) and the 2004 Alabama (gr. I) and Test (gr. I) Stakes, while earning $1,984,200. Taylor Made, as agent for phase two of the Irving Cowan dispersal, consigned the bay mare.

“For somebody trying to buy really quality blood, it was a good buy, but we were happy with the price,” said Taylor Made’s Duncan Taylor. “There haven’t been many mares that have won two grade I's three weeks apart -- one going seven furlongs, which was the Test, and then the Alabama going a mile and a quarter. She was definitely something special.”

Society Selection has produced three live foals, including the winner Superior Selection (by Giant's Causeway).

Duignan, again acting for Coolmore, acquired Golden Ballet, the dam of 2010 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) Drosselmeyer, for $1.4 million. Produced from the unraced Slew o' Gold mare Golden Jewel Box, Golden Ballet captured six added-money events, including the 2001 editions of the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I).

In foal to Unbridled's Song, Golden Ballet was consigned by Taylor Made, agent for Aaron and Marie Jones. Duignan said the chestnut mare would be sent to Ireland to be bred to Coolmore stallion Galileo in 2011.

A 12-year-old daughter of Moscow Ballet, Golden Ballet also is the dam of stakes winner Stage Luck (by Unbridled’s Song), who finished third in the 2008 Ruffian Handicap (gr. I).

Broodmare prospect Carribean Sunset, a group III winner in Ireland and a stakes winner in this country, was the session’s third-highest-priced horse at $1 million. Australian bloodstock agent James Bester bought the 5-year-old daughter of Danehill Dancer from Helen Alexander’s Middlebrook Farm, agent.

Bester was acting on behalf of Kiaora Stud, an Australian operation, but he declined to discuss details of its ownership.

“She’ll go back to Australia and be bred to one of the leading stallions there,” said Bester of Carribean Sunset. “She was a beautiful mover, a very classy filly with a wonderful head.”

Helen Alexander’s Middlebrook Farm, agent, consigned Carribean Sunset. The mare has not raced since June 5, when she finished fifth in the Nassau Stakes (Can-IIT) at Woodbine while running for Alexander, Jon and Sarah Kelly, and Donald and Joan Cimpl. Jon Kelly purchased the mare for $1,250,000 from Paramount Sales, agent, at the 2008 Keeneland November sale.

Bred in Ireland by Barronstown Stud and produced from the winning Royal Academy mare Bonheur, Carribean Sunset started her racing career in Europe. She won three group III events in Ireland and finished third in the 2008 Boylesports Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I).

In this country, Carribean Sunset captured the Dr. James Penny Memorial Handicap, finished second in the Diana (gr. IT) and Beaugay (gr. IIIT) Stakes, and was third in the Palomar Handicap (gr. IIT) in 2009.

“I liked the pedigree; there was a lot going on there,” Bester said. “Obviously, Danehill Dancer is well-known in Australia, so that part of the pedigree appealed. But we also want group-winning fillies, preferably on turf because we race on turf. She had group I form as well; she did it in Ireland and in America, so we liked that. Royal Academy is a very good broodmare sire as well. He’s the broodmare sire of Fastnet Rock, our leading stallion in Australia. We figured this filly ticked all the boxes.”

The Australian dollar is stronger against the American dollar this year and that makes shopping for buyers from Down Under easier, according to Bester.

“We participated last year (in the Keeneland November sale) and we were competitors, but it’s even better this year,” Bester said. “(There is) no doubt the exchange rate makes it worthwhile. We have a limit on what we can spend on any given horse, but with the exchange rate the way it is now, we are able to compete (more aggressively) here.”

Duignan was the session’s biggest spender, paying $3,250,000 in total for her two purchases. Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings ranked second and was the leading domestic buyer, spending $1,385,000 for three head.

Brothers Alain and Gerard Wertheimer, the owners of France-based superstar mare Goldikova, also were active, purchasing two horses for $1,250,000. Goldikova became the first horse to become a three-time Breeders’ Cup winner Nov. 6 when she won the Mile (gr. I), sponsored this year by TVG, for the third consecutive year.

The Keeneland sale runs through Nov. 20, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. (EST).