Racing officials reported yesterday that prices were down nearly 11 percent in the final tally of the prestigious July sale of selected yearlings at Keeneland race course in Lexington, Ky.
But they expressed relief that there had been no worse decline in a market that had already plunged 40 percent in the preceding five years.
They also acknowledged again that the market was still being saved by heavy spending by investors from the Arab nations and Japan, who once more dominated the two days of auction sales that closed Tuesday night.
The three brothers of the ruling Maktoum family of the Persian Gulf oil emirate of Dubai combined to buy 50 of the 231 yearlings sold and spent close to $25 million of the $73.5 million grossed in the auction.
"Gloom and doom were forecast before the sale," James E. Bassett III, chairman of the Keeneland Association, said by telephone.
"There was much apprehension, reflecting the national recession. But good horses brought top prices. The sale serves as a barometer of public interest, and it should send a message of encouragement to the industry. The buyers were generally pleased at the stability of the sale."
Leroy Jolley, the trainer of two Kentucky Derby winners and the star filly Meadow Star, said: "It was a quality-intensive market. The good ones sell high; the others don't."
The bottom line after two days of auctions showed 231 yearlings sold for a total of $73.5 million at an average price of $319,578. Last year, 234 horses were sold for $82.3 million at an average price of $352,009. At the peak of the market in 1984, yearlings were bringing $544,681 on the average at the Keeneland sale.
Blockbuster sales also softened a bit. Nine of this week's yearlings commanded $1 million or more; last year, 11 went over $1 million.
This week's high price was $2.6 million paid for a colt whose sire was the French champion Nureyev and whose grandsires were Northern Dancer and Alydar.
The colt was sold by William S. Farish's Lane's End Farm to the agent Morio Sakurai, who was representing Yoshio Asakawa, a developer and manager of golf courses in Japan.
Last year's highest price was $2.9 million; the record price paid for a yearling was $13.1 million in 1985.
The biggest spender at this week's auction was Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the minister of Defense for both Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, who bought 35 yearlings for $18 million.