More of the Same at Keeneland's Juvenile Sale

Published in the April 28 issue of The Blood-Horse
Sale records were established for average and median during Keeneland's April auction of 2-year-olds in training. But those results didn't tell the whole story about what happened on a cold and snowy spring day in Central Kentucky.

The buy-back rate inched upward to a sale-record high. The number sold plunged to a sale-record low. And consignors complained often about buyers who were too picky and too few in numbers. In other words, the auction experienced many of the same problems that afflicted earlier juvenile sales this year in Florida and California.

Keeneland officials were "very satisfied," said Geoffrey Russell, assistant director of sales. "The consignors with really nice horses who performed well on the racetrack got top dollar for them. I think that's the way that it's been at all the 2-year-old sales, so far, this year."

Keeneland's April 17 auction got off to a slow start. Fifteen (51.7%) of the first 29 horses through the ring failed to find new homes. Although bidding remained spotty, the sale closed with a brief, but furious, burst of buying activity. Among the final 18 horses were six that sold for $300,000 or more and three that brought $500,000 or more.

The final figured showed:

* Number offered: Down 25.1% to 146, the third-lowest total ever. (Fifty-three, or 26.6%, of the 199 horses catalogued this year were scratched.)

* Number sold: Down 26% to 91.

* Gross revenue: Down 19.5% to $14,898,000.

* Average: Up 8.8% to $163,714.

* Median: Up 19% to $125,000

* Buy-back rate: Up from 36.9% in 2000 to 37.7% this year.

The number of horses sold for $100,000 or more dropped from 73 to 58. The number that brought $200,000 or more decreased from 29 to 23. And the sale-topping price slipped from $825,000 to $775,000.

Erosion at the market's top has been commonplace at juvenile sales this year. There are two primary schools of thought about its cause.

Some horsemen blame the downturn on a lack of quality, saying pinhookers spent less money for their stock after a tough season in 2000. "The home run horses aren't here," said Dr. Steve Carr of Centennial Farms. "There aren't any Unbridled's Songs or anything like that."

Others point to America's struggling economy. "Our industry is based on entertainment, and the dollars people bring to it are discretionary funds," said Barry Berkelhammer of AbraCadabra Farms. "When they see negative changes in their net worth, they tighten up their discretionary spending. Yacht sales go down and so do horse sales."

There also was a significant decrease in the number of buyers at Keeneland. Only 67 purchased one or more horses compared to 84 in 2000. Missing in action were major players like New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace and Irish veterinarian Demi O'Byrne. The latter was in Australia buying yearlings. Dick Mulhall, chief adviser to The Thoroughbred Corp., showed up, but said the stable had enough 2-year-olds after spending sprees in California and Florida.

"It's a very thin market here," said Kentucky bloodstock agent Pete Bradley. "Nick (de Meric) and I sold a Silver Hawk colt that had a lot of underbidders and got the big money ($400,000), but on a couple of others we've sold so far, it was just one bidder and the reserve. I bet you'll find the same situation if you talk to other consignors."

Highest Prices

Keeneland's $775,000 sale topper was the third horse sold from the auction's end. Florida horseman J.B. McKathan outlasted Barry Irwin of Team Valor to get the muscular chestnut daughter of Dixieland Band. Bob Baffert will train her for a new client, Allan Gilbert of Del Mar, Calif.

The filly is a half-sister to Gold Fitz, who finished third in the Juan Shaw (Arg-II) earlier this year. Their dam, the 15-year-old Drone mare Honey Bee Gold, is a half-sister to Jungle Gold, who won the Locust Grove Handicap and finished third in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I). Honey Bee Gold also is a half-sister to Solar Slew, the dam of two-time Horse of the Year Cigar.

Before the sale, the Dixieland Band filly worked only once, completing an eighth-mile in :10 1/5. The time was only one-fifth of a second slower than the fastest clocking for the distance.

"The thing that really makes you love a filly like this is the Drone mare," McKathan said. "They (horses out of Drone mares) go long. This filly is very fast, but she's got a pedigree that says she'll keep on running. To me, she's a filly who could start running at Del Mar and keep winning races all year long. She's a really, really exciting horse."

The pinhooking team of Virginia horseman Allen (Dale) Jenkins and Canadian real estate developer Cam Allard consigned the filly to the auction. Two years ago, they sold La Salle Street, a Not For Love colt, for $2 million at Keeneland in April. The price established a record for the sale and also equaled the world record for a 2-year-old sold at public auction.

"When we sold the $2 million colt, I was stunned by the whole thing," Allard said. "With this filly, it wasn't quite the same, but it was enjoyable. It was a really good sale considering the overall market."

Allard purchased her as a weanling for $285,000 from Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, agent, at the 1999 Keeneland November sale. He tried to sell her twice as a yearling through Eaton Sales, but bought her back for $425,000 at Keeneland in July and $325,000 at Keeneland in September.

"We've always thought she was beautiful physically," Allard said, "but we weren't expecting her to be the sale topper today, I can tell you that."

A strapping Pleasant Colony colt, who worked an eighth in :10 1/5, brought the sale's second-highest price of $650,000. The buyers were Emmanuel and Laura de Seroux of the California-based bloodstock agency Narvick International. The bay colt will be owned by the couple's San Gabriel Investments in partnership with Sidney Port and Marsha Naify, the daughter of the late 505 Farms owner Marshall Naify.

"Size, scope, and speed," said Laura de Seroux, when asked what impressed her about the colt. "For a big, tall horse, he's very fast."

The $650,000 colt was produced from the 12-year-old Cure the Blues mare Patticake Blues.

Ciaran and Amy Dunne of Florida-based Wavertree Stables sold the Pleasant Colony colt, who was an $87,000 graduate of the 2000 Keeneland September yearling sale. The Dunnes consigned him in partnership with New Yorker William C. Schettine, who was the colt's majority owner.

"He was so big and backward that we had never done a lot with him," Ciaran Dunne said. "He had always trained well, but we had no idea about the speed he had until we breezed him up here. He's the highest-priced horse that Amy and I have ever sold. It was exciting, but I'm glad it's over with. When the buyers started coming after him, we started worrying. Our emotions would blow hot and cold. 'Oh, they love him. Oh, they hate him.' It was nice when the hammer finally dropped."

Schettine, who is in the natural gas transportation business, was much less tense.

"This is just one of many experiences," he said. "I've made a lot more money than this in one day, so it's not real exciting for me, but it's better than a kick in the shins."