Tar Heels Win, and Vallenzeri Sells!

All in all it was a pretty good night. North Carolina (my alma mater) won the national championship in college basketball, and the there some bright spots during the opening session of the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. The market remained brutal, with the buy-back rate and the number of scratches much too high for comfort, but Vallenzeri finally got sold and the average price for the session rose -- and thank goodness -- because I'm running out of words to describe the big drops that have become commonplace.

Vallenzeri's $1.9-million price -- the highest for a juvenile sold at public auction this year -- boosted the average and kept the gross revenue close to last year's total. What a relief not to have to write another story about a failure to sell at a ridiculous -- and world record -- price level. Sometimes it's hard to interview someone without rolling your eyes although Michael Paulson was very nice in answering questions following the first Vallenzeri buy-back and Azeri's failure to find a new home at Keeneland in January. In talking with people, it seems that Vallenzeri improved physically to a significant degree since he was offered as a yearling. Last September, some buyers indicated -- off the record -- that they weren't very impressed by the colt and there were a lot of other young horses that outshone him in appearance. A solid :10 1/5 work for an eighth of a mile prior to the Keeneland juvenile auction probably enhanced his appeal because getting it done on the track -- not pretty looks -- is the most important thing at the races. A lot of physical defects can be forgiven when a horse starts winning.

I didn't ever meet Vallenzeri personally -- I just observed him from a distance -- but I didn get to meet the Songandaprayer colt that turned in the Keeneland sale's fastest eighth of a mile work, covering the distance in :9 4/5. What a sweet horse? He's built like a tank, but he's just a big old baby, loving attention and a rub on the head. You would think the fast work would have his mind all jangled, but this colt was very laid-back at the barn. His nickname is 'The Bunny' because of his sweet nature and the name of his dam -- Beach Bunny. I wish I would find him in my Easter basket.

The few good things that happened at Keeneland weren't trend changers, but any little bit of good news is welcome. And I think I finally managed to write a story that didn't include these words: global financial crisis. The economy won't be getting much better soon, and we all will need these occasional positive developments to keep our spirits up. Based on comments from yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers, they will be cutting back their spending at the yearling sales later this year. Their participation has become such an important part of the buying force that the yearling market -- which didn't feel the full impact of the worsening economy -- probably faces another substantial adjustment downward in 2009. In the meantime, I'm going to savor the Tar Heels' victory and be thankful that there's still some good stories in the stories the auction business even though it's facing its biggest challenge since the crash in the 1980s. 

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