Wilburn, a strapping son of Bernardini, attracted a $625,000 winning bid at the Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Wilburn, a strapping son of Bernardini, attracted a $625,000 winning bid at the Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Photos by Z/Keeneland

Keeneland Sale Produces 'Positive Signs'

The gross and median price for the April 5 juvenile sale increase; average off 5.4%.

The Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training ended the 2010 select selling season for juveniles with encouraging results that the company’s director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, called “good and positive signs that we can build on going forward.” They included a gross revenue and median price that rose 1.8% and 14.9%, respectively, from a year ago and a buy-back rate that declined to 36.6% from 43.6% in 2009.

The average price fell 5.4% during the auction, which was held April 5 in Lexington. But that performance was an improvement over the 15.5% setback that the statistic had suffered last spring.

“It was our sense that the market had more confidence entering this sale, and that confidence was, largely, borne out this evening when there was a strong market for quality,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “Moreover, there was a good cross-section of domestic, Japanese, and European buyers, which is an indication that our investments in building a deeper buying bench in a number of markets are reaping dividends.”

The Keeneland auction is the fifth and final major select juvenile sale this year following auctions conducted by the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. and Fasig-Tipton in Florida and Barretts in California. The 71 horses sold by Keeneland grossed $12,013,000 and averaged $169,197. The median price was $135,000.  In 2009, when 66 horses (a sale record low) were sold, the gross was $11,805,000. The average was $178,864, and the median was $117,500.

“I think people are getting more comfortable,” said Russell when asked what the Keeneland sale results revealed about the health of the recession-battered Thoroughbred marketplace. “(What happened in) 2008 was such a huge shock to everybody, and 2009 was the tsunami that followed the earthquake. The fear factor has dropped a little bit since then, and people have realized that business has to be done and trade is going to take place. That’s where we are at the moment.”

Prime Equestrian, which has a billing address in France, according to Keeneland officials, was the auction’s biggest spender, paying $2,107,000 for 12 horses. Members of the Prime Equestrian group, which included bloodstock agent Hubert Guy, were reluctant to talk to reporters and revealed little information about the operation other than it races internationally.

Jess Jackson’s Stonestreet Stables, represented by its bloodstock adviser, John Moynihan, purchased the sale’s most expensive horse, a strapping son of Bernardini  named Wilburn, for $625,000. The bay juvenile, which stands over 16 hands, was the only horse in the consignment of Kentucky-based trainer Bill Helmbrecht. Wilburn had been working regularly at Turfway Park prior to the auction and he breezed three furlongs in :33 4/5 during the sale’s under tack show. Helmbrecht’s brother Mike, is the president of Woodbridge Bloodstock, which bred the colt in Kentucky.

“He’s a nice horse, we hope,” Moynihan said. “They’ve done so much with him. He’s a great big horse; he’s almost 16.2 hands. I don’t know if we are going with him to keep going to the same extent they were going. We may just stop on him a little bit and then bring him back in (to training) and get him ready to race in the summer or fall. He looks like he’s a big, two-turn horse to me. He went beautifully on the racetrack.”

A member of his sire’s first crop, Wilburn is out of the 10-year-old Carson City mare Moonlight Sonata, who captured the 2002 Arlington-Washington Lassie Stakes (gr. IIII) while running for Woodbridge Farm and being trained by Bill Helmbrecht. The colt is a half-brother to 2008 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) winner Beethoven (by Sky Mesa ). Sky Mesa is a grandson of A.P. Indy, and Bernardini is a son of A.P. Indy.

“With the pedigree, we’re taking a chance,” Moynihan said. “We like Bernardini and the mare has produced a good horse with the same cross, so we’ll take a shot. The price was high for me. I had Mr. Jackson on the phone and he always decides. But the price was pretty stout.”

The colt attracted a lot of interest from buyers before the auction. Jimmy Bell and Jimmy Gladwell, representing Sheikh Mohammed, were among the shoppers who stopped by his barn, and they stood just outside sale pavilion in the hallway during the bidding.

“He had so much going for him that I was praying for this much (money),” said Mike Helmbrecht, who manages and is a partner in a Thoroughbred farm, Destiny Oaks of Ocala, in Florida. "It's great."

Representatives of Katsumi Yoshida, who operates Northern Farm in Japan, purchased the Keeneland sale’s second-highest-priced horse, a Malibu Moon  – Whirlwind Charlott, colt for $575,000. Amy and Ciaran Dunne’s Wavertree Stables consigned the chestnut juvenile for his breeder, Woodford Thoroughbreds. The colt worked a quarter mile in :20 4/5.

A Johannesburg – Spain filly and a Maria's Mon – La Cucina colt each brought $525,000. Prime Equestrian bought the filly from Eddie Woods, agent. Trainer John Ward, representing John Oxley, signed the sale ticket for the colt, which also was consigned by Woods as agent.