Desert Stormer, sold for $3.6 million.

Desert Stormer, sold for $3.6 million.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland January Sale Off to Strong Start

Keeneland's January horses of all ages sale got off to a solid start on Monday. The number sold, gross revenue, and average price all experienced big increases from last year's first session. The buy-back rate declined significantly. And the second-highest price in the auction's history was recorded when 1995 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Desert Stormer (in foal to Kris S.) sold for $3.6 million. (The record was the $5 million brought by Mackie, in foal to Mr. Prospector, in 2000.)

"We were surprised at the consistency of the strength throughout the session," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "The auctioneers said there was interest pretty much in every horse. There was good strength in the middle market at our November sale, and I think it has carried over to January. The economy is also a little bit better, so maybe people are more interested in buying horses."

The 242 horses sold grossed $17,911,800 and averaged $74,016. The number sold was up by 20.4%, and the gross and the average were up by 53.6% and 27.6%, respectively. The buy-back rate was 17.1%, down from 31.9% in 2000. The median suffered a 3.8% decrease, falling from $26,000 last year to $25,000 this year.

"It seems to be a balanced market," said Lexington bloodstock agent Dan Kenny. "It doesn't seemed to be favoring the buyer or the seller. It's a healthy market. You can sell one well and you can buy one well."

Said Rick Nichols of Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Farm, which launched its new commercial venture with a January consignment: "It's going great. We brought our horses here to sell, and they sold very well, They brought more money than we expected."

Desert Stormer was purchased by Live Oak Stud. The sale ticket was signed by Michael Youngs, an adviser to Live Oak who was in contact with farm owner Charlotte Weber as the sale progressed. The underbidder was Dr. Tony Ryan, the founder of Ireland's low-fare airline, Ryanair. Ryan operates Castleton Lyons, a 1,073-acre Central Kentucky farm he purchased last fall for $14 million.

"She's a beautiful mare," Youngs said. "She was a good race mare and she's a good producer. She has everything." Youngs said they have a good idea to whom Desert Stormer will be bred this year, but would not disclose that information.

Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency on behalf of Joanne Nor's Norfields Farm, Desert Stormer is the dam of grade II winner Sahara Gold (by Seeking the Gold). Desert Stormer was sold in foal to Kris S. A 2-year-old Mr. Prospector filly produced from Desert Stormer was withdrawn from the Keeneland sale and could be offered at the Barretts Ltd. March sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Desert Stormer previously was consigned to last year's Keeneland November sale but was withdrawn.

Nor said divorce proceedings had prompted her to "regroup financially" and that she has mixed feelings about selling the mare. "It's a Catch-22," Nor said. "If you sell one like her, you don't have the produce to sell, but if you don't sell her, then you don't have the money to run your operation."

Earlier in the session, the mare Roll Over Baby and her yearling colt by Unbridled's Song sold for $1 million and $1.1 million, respectively.

Roll Over Baby, a 13-year-old multiple stakes winner by Rollin On Over, was purchased by Utah horseman David Plummer. Her yearling colt, a half-brother to stakes winner Majorbigtimesheet (by Carson City) and a full brother to the undefeated 3-year-old Werblin, was bought by New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace, who was representing Aaron and Marie Jones of Oregon.

Plummer said he had seen Werblin race and his favorable impression of that colt was a factor in his decision to acquire Roll Over Baby. The horseman was also impressed by her yearling Unbridled's Song colt, calling him the best in his age group at the January sale. Plummer bought Roll Over Baby for his company, Classic Star, which buys well-bred mares and leases them to various clients. Their offspring are sold primarily as yearlings. Plummer, who was leading buyer at the 2000 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, said his goal is to put together a broodmare band with 50-70 members.

Chace said he liked Roll Over Baby's Unbridled's Song yearling because he resembles his sire and "looks like he'll be a nice big horse" in size. Chace spoke to Jones via cell phone during the bidding and said his client "wasn't going to stop."

Taylor Made Sales also consigned Roll Over Baby and her yearling. The yearling was bred in Kentucky by Just the Beginning Farm.

The January sale runs through Thursday, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. (EST) daily.