Miss Catalyst, winner of the 2009 Pebbles Stakes at Belmont Park, brought the session's top price of $325,000.

Miss Catalyst, winner of the 2009 Pebbles Stakes at Belmont Park, brought the session's top price of $325,000.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Average Falls 37.4% in Keeneland Jan. Opener

Gross declines 44.8%, and median drops 25.9% from a year ago.

The Keeneland horses of all ages sale opened Jan. 11 in Lexington with major losses, suffering downturns of 44.8% in gross revenue, 37.4% in average price, and 25.9% in median price from a year ago. According to Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, the steep declines reflected a drop in the quality of horses more than they did a further weakening in the recession-battered Thoroughbred marketplace.

“The joint sale toppers (which brought $950,000 apiece) last year were in the first session,” Russell said. “That’s why we don’t like to compare mixed sales (from year to year) because you’re not guaranteed to have the same quality. We had strong, steady sales today, but the market is undergoing a reset and adjusting to the new market reality. While the clearance rate (69.% of the horses finding new homes) isn’t as high as (it was in) the first session last year, it is still a strong rate, indicating that there is an interest in –and a market for – quality horses. In this environment, that is the most important thing at this juncture.”

The 177 horses and one stallion share that sold grossed $6,592,600 and averaged $37,037. The median was $20,000. Last year, the 202 lots that sold grossed $11,945,900 and averaged $59,138. The median was $27,000.

The buy-back rate rose from 26.5% last year to 30.5% this year.

“I’m not surprised with what the market is,” said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency. “It’s about what I thought it was going to be. It’s still a tough market for the sellers, and it’s a good market for the buyers. People are very hesitant, and there’s not a lot of confidence. For a lot of the horses going through, the cost of keeping them in Kentucky is preventing people from buying them. The people who are stepping up are getting good value, and they’re going to make money with the horses they buy.”

The session lost one of its top attractions when the Giant’s Causeway mare Eden’s Causeway, who is a winning half-sister to champion Paradise Creek, aborted her Tiznow  foal. An Afleet Alex  yearling half-brother to grade I winner and Eclipse Award finalist Lookin At Lucky was withdrawn as was a filly by 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper  and out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri.

“Most of the 111 outs were foals (short yearlings),” Russell said. “The excuses were ‘I made enough money in November, I decided to sell in September, the horse didn’t vet.’ ”

Miss Catalyst, winner of the 2009 Pebbles Stakes at Belmont Park, brought the session’s top price of $325,000. Randy Gullatt of Twin Creeks Farm near Versailles, Ky., signed the sale ticket for the 4-year-old daughter of Mr. Greeley, which has not raced since the Oct. 12 Pebbles because of a stress fracture in her left hind tibia. According to Gullatt, Twin Creeks plans to return the chestnut filly to trainer Todd Pletcher and race her later this year after she recovers fully from her injury.

“She’s a very good-looking filly with good broodmare potential, and she has the potential to improve as a racehorse as well,” Gullatt said. “We like Mr. Greeley, and she’s a very good physical horse. We were hoping to get a good deal in this market, but I don’t know if it (the price) was a bargain. I think it was fair value

Produced from the 9-year-old stakes-winning Tale of the Cat  mare Key to the Cat, Miss Catalyst has won three of her nine races and earned $162,340. She finished second in the Riskaverse Stakes at Saratoga last year. Bred by Gulf Coast Farms in Kentucky, she scored in the Busanda while racing for Gulf Coast and Arianne de Kwiatkowski of Calumet Farm.

“It was a good price, but I don’t think it was a breakaway price,” said Utah horseman Lance Robinson of Gulf Coast. “She (Miss Catalyst) needs to go back to the racetrack. We think there is a lot of racing left in her. One of the reasons we sold her is that one of our best fillies at home is a (2-year-old daughter of) Malibu Moon  out of that mare.”

Earlier in the day, Gulf Coast bought back its homebred Distorted Passion, who was in the Taylor Made consignment, for $400,000. The 5-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor  captured the Interborough Handicap at Aqueduct Jan. 1. She also won the 2009 Correction Handicap and the 2008 Foil Stakes at the same track.

Robinson, who operates Gulf Coast in partnership with Florida horseman Jerry Bailey, said Distorted Passion would be retired from racing and bred this year. Her mating plans have not been finalized.

“We want to start her out right,” Robinson said. “We feel like she is a very special filly. We lost her mother, and we lost another mare out of that family. We really love the family, so we felt like that if we were to sell her, we had to get paid a lot for her – get a premium and not just trade horses. It’s hard to sell a horse for a premium these days, and she didn’t quite there where we thought she should be. We’re real happy to have her back. She’s big and strong, and she stands over a ton of ground. She’s from a family that has great individuals, and it’s an active racehorse family.”

The Keeneland horses of all ages auction continues through Jan. 15. Selling will begin at 10 a.m. (EST) each day.