Irish Cherry's $2.7-million price leads the way as gross and average rise at Keeneland.

Irish Cherry's $2.7-million price leads the way as gross and average rise at Keeneland.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Sale Off to Solid Start

Gross and average rise at January auction.

Irish Cherry, the dam of grade I winners Spun Sugar and Daaher, brought the highest price at the Keeneland January horses of all ages auction since 2002 when she sold for $2.7 million Jan. 7. The opening session of the seven-day sale posted significant gains in its gross revenue and average compared with a year ago even though fewer horses were sold, but the buy-back rate increased.

While Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell was pleased with most of the results, he warned that the financial going could get tougher later in the auction.

"I think it is a very discerning market," he said. "The perceived quality is selling very, very well, but there is a little bit of polarization. The top end is strong, and then there's a weakness throughout the rest (of the horses). It comes back to comments we've made over the last year about overproduction. It was clear today."

Keeneland reported that the 195 horses sold grossed $21,325,900 and averaged $109,364. Compared with 2007, the number sold dropped 7.6% from 211, but the gross advanced 12.4% from $18,970,000. The median remained the same at $55,000, while the buy-back rate grew from 27.5% last year to 33% this year.

"The success of the auction season of 2007/2008 has been based really on the weakness of our currency," Russell said. "It's the only thing that has saved us from a massive correction. We have a serious overproduction problem that needs to be looked at. There is an oversupply of non-commercial horses, and that needs to be reviewed."

Eric Guillot of Southern Equine Stables signed the sale ticket for Irish Cherry, a 14-year-old stakes-winning Irish Open mare in foal to Ghostzapper.

"(The price) was probably about what I thought, maybe $200,000 more," Guillot said. "I was trying to get her for $2.5 million or $2.6 million, but a couple of hundred (dollars) here or there, what the hell is that going to matter? I wasn't going to go to $3.5 million, but there was a chance that if everybody had gotten on her, she would have brought $4 million. I don't think the big money is here today."

Both of Irish Cherry's grade I winners are by Awesome Again . Spun Sugar captured the Apple Blossom (gr. I) and Go for Wand (gr. I) Handicaps in 2006 and the 2005 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (gr. II). Daaher triumphed in last year's Hill 'n' Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I) and Jerome (gr. II) Handicaps. Irish Cherry scored in the 1998 George C. Hendrie and the 1999 La Voyageuse Handicaps at Woodbine.

"She's got a colt in her belly," Guillot said. "I think the Ghostzapper babies are worth a mint, and he was a phenomenal individual. The plan is for me to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) with her Ghostzapper colt and syndicate him for $75 million. Walt Disney isn't the only one who can create fantasy, right?"

Asked if Irish Cherry would be bred to Awesome Again this year, Guillot replied: "It's possible. I love Awesome Again. But we don't have to cross that bridge yet. It would be foolish not to send her back to Awesome Again, again."

Southern Equine is involved in a number of Thoroughbred breeding ventures with John Sikura's Kentucky-based Hill 'n' Dale operation, which consigned Irish Cherry for New Mexico residents Pierre and Leslie Amestoy, who own Lobo Farm near Paris, Ky., and Mike Abraham of Las Vegas.

"It was a great sale, but (Irish Cherry) was a great value at that price," Sikura said. "She's a mare that has got a lot to offer, and she's in foal to a Horse of the Year. We knew she was an in-excess-of-$2-million mare, but whether she made $2.5 million, $2.8 million, or $3.million just depended on a handful of people and when they thought they had bid enough."

In 2006, Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, as agent, consigned Irish Cherry to the Keeneland November breeding stock sale while she was in foal to Storm Cat. Hill 'n' Dale Bloodstock, agent, was listed as her buyer at $800,000. Pierre Amestoy said he and his wife and Abraham purchased Irish Cherry privately soon afterward.

"We actually bought her thinking we were going to keep her for a lot longer," Pierre Amestoy said. "But after Daaher won the grade I Cigar, we thought there is no time like the present to sell her because she probably wouldn't ever be worth any more than she is right now. My wife didn't want to sell her, but at that point, it turned into a business decision, and you've got to do what you've got to do."

Neither the Amestoys nor Abraham had ever before sold a Thoroughbred for so much money.

"We've very excited," Pierre Amestoy said. "We expected her to bring that kind of money, and we're very pleased with what she brought."

A dispersal of horses owned by Jaime Carrion grossed $387,000 for the three broodmares that sold and $1,251,000 for the seven yearlings that sold. In the dispersal were the session's three highest-priced yearlings: a $475,000 Saint Liam--Ministrada filly that is a half-sister to graded III winner Lone Star Sky; a $300,000 Ghostzapper--Najecam filly that is a half-brother to champion Action This Day; and a $270,000 Speightstown --Deputy Maiden colt. Tom VanMeter of Eaton Sales purchased the Saint Liam filly; Lee Rogers bought the Ghostzapper filly; and Fair Green Bloodstock purchased the Speightstown colt.

The Carrion horses were consigned by Robert E. Courtney Sr./Crestfield Farm, agent. Courtney's retirement and Carrion's decision to disperse were announced at about the same time late last year.

"I think the dispersal went very well, and I'm very proud thanks to Mr. Courtney," Carrion said. "I've still got three horses at the racetrack, but I'm getting rid of those also. I've been at it 30 years now. Thanks to (Courtney), we've done very well. We've been very successful, and it wasn't luck; it was because of him.

"I'm proudest of my association with him. That's it. It doesn't get any better than that. I love horses and the industry, but it's about time to get out. I figure I'm going to do something else."