Beckys Shirt brought top price as Keeneland's January sale continued its strong run Tuesday.

Beckys Shirt brought top price as Keeneland's January sale continued its strong run Tuesday.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Prices Surge at Keeneland January Sale; Last Year's Gross Exceeded in First Two Days

The Keeneland Express picked up steam Tuesday in Lexington, with the gross revenue for the January mixed sale surpassing last year's total for the entire auction after only two days. The 491 horses sold brought $35,374,200, up 61.4% from the two-day total of $21,916,700 in 2003 and 13.4% ahead of last year's entire sale gross of $31,186,000.

"I think it's just a carryover from November, when people weren't able to buy then and this is the last stop before the breeding season and the yearling selling season," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "They're filling up their barns and heading for the breeding shed."

The average price after two days was $72,045, up 49.2% from last year's two-day figure, and the median price was up 23.3%. The buy-back rate was 24.0%, down from 28.4% in 2003.

On Tuesday, 265 horses were sold for a gross of $20,513,100, an average of $77,408, and a median of $40,000. Compared to last year's second session, when 246 horses were sold, the gross and average soared 82.6% and 69.5%, respectively. The median increased 42.9%. The buy-back rate fell from 22.6% last year to 18.2% this year.

"We had a lovely day," Russell said. "The horses were a little bit better today than yesterday, and there were fireworks. There were a couple of broodmare prospects that really surprised me today. The not sold rate surprised me greatly."

Beckys Shirt brought the top price of $850,000 Tuesday. Aisling Duignan and Paul Shanahan of Coolmore Stud outlasted Betty Mabee's agent Rick Trontz in the battle for the 13-year-old mare, who is the dam of 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Cajun Beat. Beckys Shirt sold in foal to Woodman.

"She's for a public corporation that we're just selling the stock in," Shanahan said. Duignan, who signed the sale ticket, declined to comment. The name on the ticket was BBA (Ireland) Ltd.

A daughter of Cure the Blues, Beckys Shirt was a winner who placed second or third in three graded events. She is a half-sister to added-money winner Adam's Run (by Fairway Phantom). Their dam, Thundertee (by Ye), was an added-money winner who finished second in the Railbird Stakes (gr. III).

"It (the price) was in the higher range of what we expected," said John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, which consigned Beckys Shirt. "Any time you sell a very nice mare or a very nice, forward yearling you get 25% more than expected. And if you sell the moderate individual that you are light on action on, the horse brings a third less. You have to sell the good ones well in order to have a good sale.

"She is as current and obvious as a mare could be," Sikura continued. "She's an outcross, so you can breed her to whomever you like. She has a probable Eclipse Award-winning champion in Cajun Beat, who came right back and won after the Breeder's Cup. She's as fresh as a mare could be to be in the sale."

Beckys Shirt was owned by Italian bloodstock agent Marco Bozzi and Giuseppe Riccioni. Bozzi purchased her through Alabatroz Bloodstock for only $14,000 at the 2002 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. Beckys Shirt was in foal to Minardi at the time, and she produced a filly earlier this year.

"I never expected something like this," said Bozzi, whose bloodstock agency is BBS Italia. He also is a partner in an Italian sale company that conducts private auctions of Thoroughbreds and trotters. Riccioni is a hotel owner.

Bozzi said he did not know if he and his partner would sell the Minardi filly or keep her to race, but he was leaning toward selling following the auction success with Beckys Shirt.

Luna Wells brought the session's second-highest price of $800,000. Irish bloodstock agent John McCormack signed the sale ticket for the French group I winner, who is in foal to Storm Cat. The 11-year-old daughter of Sadler's Wells was the fourth horse to bring $800,000 or more at the January auction.

McCormack said Luna Wells would be owned by an Irish breeder. Paul Shanahan and Aisling Duignan of Coolmore Stud were standing nearby. One reporter saw Shanahan place a finger on his lips, and say, "Shhhhh," while looking at McCormack.

"She has a good foal (a 2003 Storm Cat colt) and hopefully there will be more from her," said John McCormack. "She's a nice mare, and she's a group I winner, so you have to appreciate that. She's well-covered -- now let's hope (for the best)."

Produced from the French group III-placed Breton mare Lunadix, Luna Wells is a half-sister to French champion Long Mick (by Gay Macene) and French classic winner Linamix (by Mendez). Luna Wells had brought more than $3 million when she sold in 1996 at Tattersalls in England. Her 2003 Storm Cat colt was bred by Stanley Gumberg's Skara Glen Stables.

A Gone West -- Affair With Aflair filly became the top-priced yearling to sell so far when she brought $410,000 Tuesday. Her buyer was Dr. Tony Ryan of Castleton Lyons, with Gabriel Duignan signing the ticket. Ryan also spent $290,000 for the filly's dam, a 10-year-old daughter of Well Decorated and from the family of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Grindstone. Affair With Aflair is in foal to Exclusive Quality.

"A very nice foal, nice mare, and a good covering sire as well," Duignan said. "I hope she (Affair With Alfair) keeps throwing that kind of foal."

Duignan said Ryan would probably race the Gone West filly.

The Keeneland January sale runs through Friday, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. each day.

Results from Keeneland--Session 2, Tuesday, Jan. 13