A mare and her foal in the sales ring at Keeneland Jan. 12

A mare and her foal in the sales ring at Keeneland Jan. 12

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Opening Average Plummets 45.9%

All economic indicators down sharply.

The results were grim, but not surprising, as Keeneland opened its January horses of all ages sale in Lexington during a time of worldwide economic downturns. The gross revenue Jan. 12 plummeted 44% from the auction’s first session in 2008 while the average price dropped 45.9%. The median price suffered the most damage, falling 50.9%.

It didn’t help Keeneland’s bottom line when Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, failed to sell for a final bid of $4.4 million.

“It’s a very tough market, but if you’ve got some quality, you can get your horses sold,” said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency. “I don’t really think it’s any worse than it was in November (during the 2008 Keeneland breeding stock sale). Some of the cheaper stuff here might have gotten hammered worse at the beginning because everybody was feeling each other out and the sale started off damn soft. But since some of the better stuff has gone through, the market seems pretty fair.”

The 202 horses that sold grossed $11,945,900 and averaged $59,138. The median was $27,000. Last year, 195 horses were sold during the first session for a gross of $21,325,900 and an average of  $109,364. The median was $55,000.

The buy-back rate fell from 33% in 2008 to 26.5% this year.

“Talking to consignors and buyers, there were some good surprises, and I think people thought the sale performed to their expectations,” said Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell. “People brought their horses here to sell, and the not sold rate has gone down. Given the current global economic situation, people have adjusted their expectations (downward) and traded their horses. Obviously we would have preferred it if Azeri had sold, but she didn’t.”

Michael Paulson, saying Azeri was “like part of the family," bought back the 11-year-old Jade Huntermare out of stakes winner Zodiac Miss (by Ahonoora). Last year, Paulson set a world Thoroughbred auction record when he bought back Azeri's s first foal, Vallenzeri (by 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy), for $7.7 million at the Keeneland September yearling auction.

John Sikura, whose Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consigned Azeri to the Keeneland January sale for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, said he and his father-in-law, Edward McGhee, tried to purchase the mare, stopping at “around $4 million.” One reporter told The Blood-Horse she saw Jimmy Bell of Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley America nodding at a bid spotter right before the price for Azeri soared to $4.3 million.

“It was extremely close (to the reserve price)," said Michael Paulson, who is a son of the late Eclipse Award-winning owner and breeder Allen Paulson. “I thought she was sold when I saw $4.2 million because it was very, very close to the reserve. That’s about all I can say without disclosing the reserve. When she went above $4 million, I thought, ‘We’ve got her sold.’ It just missed where we were. Unfortunately, we’ve been the victims twice now of the global financial market meltdown. But my father always said, ‘When you’ve got quality, you want to keep it,' and obviously she’s still the queen. If they (the buyers) saw her come up to the (sale) ring, she was on her toes; she thought she was going to race.”

Azeri is in foal to 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and fetal sexing has determined that she is carrying a filly, according to Paulson.

“We’re going to talk to a few people and see if we can do a deal here shortly,” Paulson said. “But if not, we’ll take her home and get that Ghostzapper foal. It was bittersweet; I was hoping to sell. But the good side is we still have her. In a good market, she would have gone for double what it (the final bid) went for today. We’ll just regroup. She (Azeri) is a good asset to have in your Thoroughbred inventory.”

Azeri won Eclipse Awards as champion older female in 2002, 2003, and 2004.

Almonsoon, a racing or broodmare prospect, and grade I winner Island Fashion, who is in foal to Ghostzapper, were the most expensive horses sold at Keeneland Jan. 12, each bringing $950,000.

Consigned by Hill ‘n’ Dale for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, Almonsoon went to Eric Guillot, representing Mike Moreno’s Southern Equine Stables. A 6-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway, Almonsoon captured the 2008 Omnibus Stakes at Monmouth Park and finished second in the 2007 Orchid Handicap (gr. IIIT). Produced from the Mr. Prospector mare Garimpeiro, Almonsoon is a half-brother to grade I winner Geri (by Theatrical), grade II winner A. P. Arrow (by A.P. Indy), and stakes winner Clure (by Theatrical).

“I wanted to buy her (Almonsoon) for $600,000,” Guillot said. “I stopped at $600,000, and the more I looked at her and looked at her pedigree, the more I liked her. I’m trying to fill a gap to get to 30 foundation mares and I couldn’t see why she couldn’t be that kind mare. She’s gorgeous. Her composure showed her class. I liked her better than Azeri.”

Naohiro Hosoda of the Shadai Corp. wrote the name of Katsumi Yoshida, the operator of Northern Farm in Japan, on the sale ticket for Island Fashion, who is in foal to Ghostzapper.

“She was a good race mare, and she’s still young–not so young, but still young–and she’s carrying a Ghostzapper,” said Hosoda of the reason for his interest in Island Fashion. “If she was going to bring not so much money, we were going to try for her. I made a phone call to Mr. Yoshida, and he said, ‘Go.’ We expected around a million dollars (for the price).”

Pope McLean of Crestwood Farm in Kentucky consigned Island Fashion (by Petionville), who was part of a reduction of Jeff Nielsen’s Everest Stables. The 9-year-old gray mare, whose coat has faded to nearly white, had been consigned to three previous Keeneland auctions by McLean for Nielsen and had been scratched. In 2006, she was offered by McLean at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select mixed sale and was bought back for $2 million.

Produced from the stakes-winning A Native Danzig mare Danzigs Fashion, Island Fashion earned $2,037,970 during her racing career. She scored in six added-money events, including the Alabama (gr. I) and La Brea (gr. I) Stakes in 2003 and the Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) in 2004. She also won the 2004 Lady’s Secret Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II), 2003 Delaware Oaks (gr. III), and 2003 WinStar/Sunland Park Oaks.

“We’re satisfied, but not elated,” McLean said. “In today’s market, that’s probably a fair price. She’s an extremely nice mare, and I think they made a good buy. They’ll come out on her. She’s a good investment.

“We kind of have mixed emotions,” he added, “because we’ve had her the whole time, and she’s such a nice, hard-knocking, genuine mare. It’s sad to see her go. She was bred on the farm, and is by Petionville (who stands at Crestwood). She’s got a good home, and we wish nothing but the best for her.”

The Keeneland January sale runs through Jan. 17, with sessions beginning each day at 10 a.m. (EST).