Keeneland sales perk up with improved offerings

The reality of the downturn plaguing the Thoroughbred marketplace has been evident for some time.

But even during the most trying times, substantial quality can provide a great salve.

After a shaky opening session that featured a 44.81 percent decline in gross Monday, the Keene—land January horses-of-all-ages sale was blessed with some bright spots Tuesday as the gutsy racehorse Miss Isella became the lone entry to break seven figures, selling for $1.085 million to Adena Springs owner Frank Stronach.

While it continues to be rough going for horses that don't fit the buyers' discriminating profiles, Tuesday's session was further proof that the top class can yield top dollars.

In addition to Miss Isella's strong price, the multiple stakes-winning filly Bon Jovi Girl — a half-sister to four-time Grade I winner Gio Ponti — sold for $950,000 to Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud who bought her on behalf of an undisclosed client.

Such purchases helped Keene land's second session post gains over the corresponding day from 2009 while overall numbers improved. The gross of $17,993,800 is down 14.69 percent from last year while the average ($44,320) and median ($20,000) are off by 13.43 and 25.93 percent, respectively.

"We anticipated today's session would have more activity given some of the horses in play," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "That was borne out in the sales (toppers), and we had several other horses sell well, another indication there is a market for quality."

A multiple Grade II winner, Miss Isella had six wins in 17 career starts while earning $648,631 for previous owner Elaine Jones. The gray daughter of Silver Charm prompted Stronach to endure a protracted battle before finally claiming the half-sister to Grade II winner Sir Cherokee.

"She put the charm on me," Stronach said. "She's nice looking, quite correct, and she has the race record and the bloodlines. I will most likely breed her. She will most likely go to (Adena Springs stallion) Ghostzapper.

"I thought she might bring a little less but, on the other hand, if you have something outstanding, there is always some money there."

Consigned by Lane's End, Miss Isella is out of the Last Tycoon mare La Cucina and was bred by Domino Stud. Bill Shively acquired Domino Stud last April from Elaine Jones, widow of Kenneth Jones. Kenneth Jones, who bought Domino Stud in 1989, died at age 90 in October 2008.

"This is a great way to honor Mr. Jones because he was in the business for a long time, and to have this be one of his last horses through the ring, I know the family must be tickled that it worked out this way," said David Ingordo, adviser to the Jones family. "She just had it all."

While Tuesday's offerings were an improvement over the opening session, the market correction cost the sale some of its other big-name prospects.

Southern Equine Stables, the leading buyer in January the past two years, scratched four of its horses from Tuesday's session including Grade I winners Spoken Fur and Point Ashley, both of whom are in foal to Ghostzapper.

Southern Equine did send graded-stakes winner Last Song through the ring, consigned by Four Star Sales, but the 9-year-old daughter of Unbridled's Song failed to meet her reserve after bringing a final bid of $775,000.

"We figured before we took a beating on them and risked them losing their value in a market that is horrible, we're going to keep our value on what we think they're worth," Eric Guillot, trainer for Southern Equine, said of the reason behind the scratches. "We didn't want to lose 50 cents on the dollar."