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Vendors are cautiously optimistic towards the prospects of this year's Keeneland September Sale, which kicks off its two week run on Monday

  PICTURE: Nancy Sexton 

Guarded optimism envelops Keeneland

A SENSE of guarded optimism was filtering through the barns at Keeneland's sale grounds late during the weekend as vendors prepared to ride through the company's marathon September Yearling Sale, which starts on Monday at 10am.

At 5,189 yearlings, this year's sale is seven per cent smaller than last year's auction, which numbered a record 5,555. However, the number of entries still necessitates seven individual catalogues, opening today with a two-day select book of 418 yearlings.

A buoyant Saratoga, which was fuelled by the spending power of Sheikh Mohammed, went some way to instilling confidence in buyers but no one is expecting this sale to match last year's figures, which were recorded against the backdrop of the Bank of America's take over of Merrill Lynch and the collapse of the Lehman brothers.

Even so, although the average dipped below $100,000 for the first time since 2004, the $327,999,100 aggregate was still the fourth highest ever recorded in September Sale history.

Making more sombre reading was the drop in number of seven-figure lots, which almost halved to 17 (not including the$1m Medaglia d'Oro filly who was knocked down to Paul d'Arcy and later returned). In addition, the top price of $3.1m paid by John Ferguson for a daughter of A P Indy was far removed from the $11.7m he had paid for Meydan City two years before.

Although Sheikh Hamdan is not expected to be present at the sale due to Ramadan, the rumour mill suggested that Sheikh Mohammed would be making an appearance once selling is underway.

Ferguson and Angus Gold were both actively working the grounds yesterday as was the Rabbah Bloodstock entourage, Demi O'Byrne, Anthony Stroud, Paul Cole, Mark Dwyer, Jeremy Brummitt, Brian Meehan, Tom Goff and Richard Brown.

Yet their presence, as well as all the major US leading buyers including relative new player Kaleem Shah, who purchased the $1.9m sale-topper at the Keeneland April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale, has not dispelled vendor concern.

"It's definitely not going to be booming and I expect the market to be down around 20 - 25 per cent," said Duncan Taylor of perennial leading vendor Taylor Made Sales Agency, who has 86 yearlings catalogued in Book 1 alone.

"We have had a steady number of shows throughout the weekend but we haven't been overwhelmed.

"This is going to be the first sale that tests where the market really is - last September, the market was just beginning to fall and in November, people were still very uncertain as to what lay ahead. Now the stock market is starting to show signs of recovery and people are starting to get comfortable with the situation."

Taylor Made's draft includes a host of blue-bloods led by Speightstown half-siblings to Well Armed (60) and Colonel John (249), an Unbridled's Song half-brother to Ashado (141), a Dynaformer half-brother to Eight Belles (287), a Johannesburg half-sister to Fasliyev (393) and the first foal out of champion Fleet Indian (342), by Storm Cat.

The last-named colt is one of 32 yearlings catalogued from the final full crop of the great stallion, whose 2005 sale average of $1,766,731 remains a record. Storm Cat been represented by the sale-topper on no fewer than seven occasions, headed by $9.7m purchase Jalil, and this year could be no different as his draft includes the full or half-siblings to Afleet Alex (177), Point Given (260) and Dreaming Of Anna (362).

It also includes six yearlings hailing from the first stage of the complete dispersal of Overbrook Farm. In total, the farm will offer 52 yearlings, primarily through Eaton Sales, whose director Reiley McDonald, remains wary towards the prospects of the sale.

"It will be very much a buyers' market," he said. "It's a question of how deeply the sale will feel the effects of the economy.

"I've seen many of the same people looking but I'd have to say that the level of traffic compared to this time last year is off. There don't seem to be that many new faces but I'm sure that Keeneland will draw as varied and large market as possible."

Eaton is also responsible for a Holy Roman Emporor half-sister to Smarty Jones (151) and a Distorted Humor half-sister to Rule Of Law (319).

Craig Bandoroff's Denali Stud arguably consigns one of the choicest lots catalogued, a Storm Cat brother to the high-class pair Sophisticat and Grand Reward who is out of champion Serena's Song (27). Between them, produce out of the daughter of Rahy have sold for over $12m at this sale.

"Serena's Song was bred to Storm Cat a lot and we had a spell when she just had colts. We were hoping this one would be a filly and we wouldn't be here if he was," says Bandoroff. "This colt is a real early, mature type - very powerful and compact with a lot of his mother and Rahy in him.

"If they're good enough, they'll do okay but it will be difficult for the ones below that," he says. "Horses have a different value now and people have to take that into account if they want to sell."

Storm Cat's leading sire son, Giant's Causeway, also looks set to enjoy a good sale judged on his 29 Book 1 entries which include the half-sisters to Leroidesanimaux (325) and Henny Hughes (387) and the second foal out of champion Azeri (81), a filly who is consigned by Hill 'n' Dale Farm.

Azeri's first foal, a son of A P Indy, made headlines at this sale last year when bought back by the Allen Paulson Living Trust for a record $7.7m. In turn, Azeri, was bought back for $4.4m at the Keeneland January Sale earlier this year. However, Hill 'n' Dale president John Sikura is confident that this year's offering will change hands, saying:

"The trust now has a mandate to sell and I believe this filly is here to do just that," he said. "I'm confident that she will find a buyer."

He adds: "The traffic has been steady so far and I haven't seen a slowing of the show patterns. However, I think people will be buying with more and more scrutiny, and that there will be fewer people buying regardless of price."

Hill 'n' Dale also sends through an A P Indy three-parts brother to recent Debutante Stakes heroine Mi Sueno out of Grade 1 winner Madcap Escapade (383), who commanded $6m at the Keeneland November Sale in 2006, and a Johannesburg daughter of champion Jewel Princess (158).

More optimistic is Joe Seitz of Brookdale Sales, who claims that the atmosphere around his barn "is full, electric and lively."

He says: "We started showing on Friday and it hasn't stopped. The traffic in this courtyard has been great and so I see no reason not to be optimistic until proven otherwise."

Brookdale's four-strong Book 1 consignment includes a son of Dynaformer (409), who is also the sire of a half-brother to 2007 sale-topper and Grade 1-placed Dunkirk (25) out of Kentucky Oaks heroine Secret Status. He is consigned by Lane's End as is a sister to Casual Look (35), herself the dam of a Distorted Humor colt (305).

Distorted Humor is also the sire of a half-brother to Bluegrass Cat (232) and a sister to Awesome Humor (355), whose own first foal, a son of Storm Cat, sold for $8.6m in 2006.

Other entries of note are Bernardini half-sisters to Speightstown (235) and Tapit (41), himself the sire of a half-brother to recent Forego Stakes hero Pyro (65), an Unbridled's Song half-sister to Vindication (245), a sister to Johannesburg (397) and a First Samurai half-brother to Pulpit (417).

Keeneland September Sale figures 2008 ($)

 Cat  Off  Sold  Aggregate  Average  Median
 5555  4795  3605  327,999,100 (-15%)  90,984 (-10%)  37,000 (-12%)

Leading Keeneland buyers by aggregate 2008

 Name  No. bought  Total
 John Ferguson  27  18,185,000
 Shadwell Estates  28  14,115,000
 Legends Racing  29  12,010,000
 Zayat Stables  30  6,732,000
 Ben Glass, agent  26  6,455,000

Leading Keeneland September sires by average 2008

 Name  No. sold  Average
 A P Indy  23  858,043
 Kingmambo  2  662,500
 Storm Cat  23  536,739
 Unbridled's Song  49  443,204
 Distorted Humor  8  414,000



Galileo £11,597,622
Dark Angel £3,704,206
Dubawi £3,194,696
Frankel £2,708,934
Kodiac £2,231,181
Acclamation £2,090,548
Iffraaj £2,067,853
Sea The Stars £1,923,734
Nathaniel £1,880,694
Invincible Spirit £1,699,882