Business

Market takes 'terrible' hit

In the end, there was no sugarcoating what transpired Monday during the opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale.

Thus, Satish Sanan didn't even try.

"It's terrible," the outspoken owner of Padua Stables deadpanned. "This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better, I'm telling you."

For the first time since 1996, the opening session of the Keeneland September sale failed to produce a seven-figure horse as the overall numbers suffered drastic across-the-board declines. The rate of horses not sold rose to 41.2 percent.

The last time Keeneland's September opening session failed to produce a horse that sold for more than $1 million was when the illustrious Keene land July yearling sale still existed. The last July sale was in 2002.

Considering the Thoroughbred marketplace has been off 25 percent to 30 percent the past year due in part to the global financial crisis, participants would have been stunned if this first session was anything but down.

Just because the industry was bracing for the hit, it didn't make it any less hurtful. The overall gross of $24,949,000 was down 55.49 percent from the corresponding session in 2008. The average sale price ($233,168) declined by 35.9 percent and the median price ($200,000) by 33.3 percent.

"The economy is showing itself, no doubt about it," said Marie Jones, who with her husband, Aaron, bred the Unbridled's Song colt that topped the session at $925,000. "There are good horses today who are worth more than what they sold for. I think people are being careful right now because we're in a recession and we will be for a while.

"I was prepared for that and I'm very happy with the price we did get."

It was just three years ago that the Keene land September sale produced a record overall gross of $399,791,800, yet the success sellers enjoyed at the time is helping to make life more difficult for them now.

The yearlings being sold now were bred when stud fees soared as a result of the commercial boom.

Now that the market has softened considerably, trying to get a return on that investment has become, in some cases, futile.

"It's very simple. People put a lot of money two years ago into stud fees and the market now is disastrous," said Sanan, who sold a daughter of A.P. Indy for $250,000 Monday, $50,000 less than the stud fee at the time. "There is no way you're going to get your stud fees out of it."

Even when some of the leading buyers got involved Monday, it didn't produce the kind of fireworks the sale has seen.

Demi O'Byrne, principal agent for Coolmore Stud, went to $925,000 for the session-topping colt, a half brother to champion Ashado and Grade I winner Sunriver.

"What a beauty," O'Byrne said of the colt, consigned by Taylor Made Sales. "He has a good pedigree ... and the mare has been very good, hasn't she. I was pleased with the price. Time will tell" if it is a bargain.

Robert and Lawana Low bought the second-highest priced horse of the session, bidding $800,000 for a filly by Giant's Causeway out of former Horse of the Year Azeri.

The only other horse that approached $1 million was a son of Distorted Humor that was bought back by Jess Jackson's Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings for $900,000 after failing to meet his reserve.

With more buyers opting to hang on to their yearlings rather than take a loss, the rate of horses not sold could remain high in the coming days.

And with the middle market already vulnerable because of the lack of available capital, the end results could continue to be grim.

"There is no mistake the pendulum has swung to the buyer's side, and there is no mistake they are very hesitant and careful in their bidding," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "It was tough out there. Readjustments are never easy, and we're in the middle of a major readjustment."

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