Keeneland's September yearling sale and Britney Spears are a lot alike; they both have lost some of their sparkle.
The auction's performance during the two select sessions Sept. 10-11 wasn't as bad as the pop singer's effort in her comeback at the MTV Video Music Awards. But the gross revenue and average price were lackluster when compared with last year's dazzling results.
While the number of horses selling for seven-figure prices remained the same at 30, the number bringing $4 million or more fell from six to zero.
"We haven't seen as many hook-ups between Coolmore and Sheikh Mohammed; I would think that probably had the biggest effect on the market," said consignor Bill Farish of Lane's End, echoing the opinion expressed by Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell following the sale's opening session Monday.
Other factors contributing to the downturns, according to other sale participants, were a decline in the physical quality of the select horses compared to a year ago and a changing of the guard in the stallion ranks, with A.P. Indy, Distorted Humor , and Unbridled's Song stealing some of the aging Storm Cat's commercial thunder.
The 337 select yearlings sold over two days in Lexington grossed $145,377,000 and averaged $431,386. Compared to 2006, when 324 horses were sold, the gross was down 20.5% from the select sessions' second-highest total ever of $182,860,000. The averaged plunged 23.6% from last year's all-time select high of $564,383.
On a more positive note, the median price of $300,000 equaled 2006's select record. The buy-back rate fell slightly, from 25.7% to 24.4%.
"Yes, the top is down," said Russel, "but there were positive signs. There were more individual buyers the first two days this year than we had last year, and there were more individual million-dollar spenders this year. But it lacks the fireworks at the top."
During the two select days, Coolmore'Stud's buying team and Sheikh Mohammed clashed only once, fighting over a Dynaformer half-brother to grade II winner and successful sire Pulpit that Dubai's ruler won for $2.9 million. Tuesday, if the two rivals tangled, it wasn't apparent. Sheikh Mohammed left Kentucky around 6 p.m (EDT) on his jet, which wasn't good news for the slumping Keeneland market.
The biggest battle Tuesday was between Coolmore and Texan Clarence Scharbauer Jr., whose family raced 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba. Their competition was intense enough over a strapping Unbridled's Song colt to generate the Keeenland auction's highest price so far: $3.7 million.
Coolmore prevailed, with its ace agent, Demi O'Byrne, signing the sale ticket for the gray or roan yearling, which is out of the 2000 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Mother Goose Stakes (gr. I) winner Secret Status (by A.P. Indy) and is a half-brother to the winner Code Book (by Giant's Causeway ). O'Byrne was acting on behalf of Coolmore managing partner John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith.
"The dam is a wonderful race mare, isn't she?" O'Byrne asked. "We've only had one Unbridled's Song, I think; we won the Matron (gr. I) with a filly (Marylebone). He's a great stallion, and I think this (pedigree) cross might be the key to stay (give him some stamina), I hope."
William S. Farish's Lane's End operation consigned the colt, which was bred in Kentucky by Farish, James Elkins, and Temple Webber Jr.
"What do I say? All I can say is we tried," said Scharbaurer, who was attending his first Keeneland September auction since 1996. "I'm not really disappointed. We bought two colts and a filly here, and I'm real pleased with all three of them."
Another son of Unbridled's Song brought Tuesday's second-highest price of $2.6 million, and O'Byrne was again the buyer. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent for his breeders, Aaron and Marie Jones, the colt is full brother to Half Ours, winner of the 2007 Richter Scale Sprint Championship Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park and the 2005 Three Chimneys Juvenile Stakes at Churchill Downs. Half Ours sold for $6.1 million when the Joneses bought out their partner, Barry Schwartz, at the 2006 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. The price was the highest ever for a horse in training sold at Keeneland,
"It was hard to separate them," said O'Byrne after purchasing his second Unbridled's Song colt, which is out of the 10-year-old winning Storm Catmare Zing. "They were two very good Unbridled's Songs, so when I bought one very good one, I thought I should get the second one."
O'Byrne moved past Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, as the September sale's biggest spender. He paid $11.7 million for six horses Tuesday to raise his cumulative totals to $16,850,000 for 11 yearlings. Ferguson only bought two horses for $2,320,000 Tuesday, increasing his totals to 15 horses for $16,230,000.
Taylor Made is the auction's leading consignor so far, with a gross of $28,885,000 for the 73 horses it sold. Lane's End is a close second, with a gross of $28,080,000 for 34 horses. Lane's End topped all consignors Tuesday, with a gross of $19,620,000 for the 18 horses it sold.
During Tuesday's session, 166 horses were sold for a gross of $77,982,000, an average of $464,771, and a median of $332,500. In last year's same session, 161 horses sold for a gross of $94,960,000, an average of $589,814, and a median of $300,000. The buy-back rate was 23.3% in 2006 compared to 24.9% this year.
A Storm Cat -- Welcome Surprise filly from the Lane's End consignment equaled the highest price so far for a filly in the sale when she sold for $1.6 million to Marc-Antoine Berghgracht’s M.A.B. Agency, which is based in France. The other $1.6-million filly, a daughter of Seeking the Gold out of Crystal Cross, was sold by Eaton Sales, agent, to O'Byrne on Monday.
The Keeneland auction continues through Sept. 25, with a day off from selling Sept.14.