12/27/2012 2:19PM

2012 Year In Review: Havre de Grace shined in year of big-priced mares

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Barbara D. Livingston
Havre de Grace sold for $10 million at the Fasig-Tipton November sale, the third-highest price ever for a broodmare or broodmare prospect.

Highlighted by the $10 million sale of Havre de Grace, the 2012 auction season largely fulfilled hopes that the Thoroughbred marketplace had stabilized after the recession. But that’s not to say it was easy. Sellers still struggled in a highly selective marketplace, even as buyers complained they were overpaying for higher-quality bloodstock.

As the foal crop has shrunk and supply has diminished, yearling buyers have focused even more keenly on getting the best quality they can get. That has forced commercial breeders to do the same. The most obvious example of two market truths − that there’s still ready money around the globe for Thoroughbreds, but it tends to concentrate on a few select lots − came in November, when Havre de Grace set a broodmare-prospect record price on Mandy Pope’s final $10 million bid at Fasig-Tipton’s November fall selected mixed sale. The first reigning Horse of the Year to sell publicly since Lady’s Secret brought $5.4 million in 1987, Havre de Grace was the third-most expensive mare to sell at auction, behind $14 million Better Than Honour (2008) and $10.5 million Playful Act (2007).

Pope, who owns Whisper Hill Farm in Florida, also bought $4.2 million Plum Pretty, the 2011 Kentucky Oaks winner, at Keeneland’s November breeding stock sale. Taylor Made Sales consigned Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, the only horses Pope bought at the November sales, and ended up as 2012’s top-grossing consignor of weanlings, yearlings, and broodmares.

Top-class mares commanded the highest prices as an international array of high-level home breeders and commercial breeders dominated the buyers’ ranks. Keeneland’s January sale kicked the year off with robust prices, led by Katsumi Yoshida’s $1.4 million bid for Star Billing’s dam, Topliner. After Havre de Grace blew the roof off at Fasig-Tipton November, the new breeding partnership of Three Chimneys Farm and Borges Torrealba paid a sale-topping $4.5 million for the Hill ’n’ Dale agency’s Pure Clan (in foal to Bernardini) at Keeneland’s November sale.

Mixed sales were broadly positive, hinting that many breeders remain optimistic about the sport and the yearling market, too, at least for quality stock. Fasig-Tipton’s small November sale nearly doubled its gross, and average rocketed up 67 percent on the back of Havre de Grace’s price. Median, the less volatile indicator, was down 5 percent, a moderate amount in light of steeper drops since 2008.

Keeneland’s huge November sale (which sold 2,414 versus Fasig-Tipton’s 87) did not match 2011’s extraordinary figures generated by the Spring Hill and Palides Investments dispersals (including the $8.5 million sale of Royal Delta), and gross and average dropped by 31 percent and 27 percent. But the shallower 8 percent dip in median suggested a fairly stable market.

Several regional mixed auctions also fared better in 2012. Barretts January and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s fall sale saw average and median increase. But Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s December mixed sale saw both those figures fall.

Highlighting the international influence in today’s select Thoroughbred market, U.S. broodmare sales’ leading buyer was France’s Mandore International, which frequently represents the royal family of Qatar. Mandore spent $14,260,000 for seven mares in the U.S.

Yearling sales

For commercial breeders, yearling sales provided optimism. But even as the yearling market saw steady or improved averages and medians, and as many stud fees held steady or fell, many breeders still struggled to earn profits at yearling sales where buyers focused on the highest quality. Keeneland’s September sale told the tale: though average and median were up 14 percent and 50 percent, only a quarter of the yearlings sold well enough to be profitable for their producers.

Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga selected sale bucked the general upward trend after enduring wild swings. Saratoga consignors confronted a notable shift in Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s buying habits. The Darley principal slashed his spending, buying eight yearlings after buying 13 in 2011. He also did not vet yearlings presale this year − a policy change that confused sellers, who use vetting to gauge buyer interest and set reserves. Opening-night figures plummeted, but the second session roared back into positive territory as sellers, inspired by a busy after-market for those who had not sold, adjusted, and buyers were emboldened by Maktoum’s less aggressive spending. But late gains couldn’t offset all losses, and the 107-yearling sale ended with drops of 6 percent in average and 14 percent in median.

Regional sales’ bottom lines appeared largely healthy. Median and average both jumped sharply at California’s Barretts October yearling sale and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s Northern California yearling auction. They went up, too, at OBS August and Fasig-Tipton’s Eastern fall auction; Fasig’s July sale saw a level median, but average ticked up on stronger upper-market spending. In Louisiana, the yearling market dipped but not dramatically. Equine Sales of Louisiana held its inaugural auction in September and realized an $8,185 average and $4,200 median. The older Breeders’ Sales Co. in the state held its yearling auction 20 days later and saw average drop 10 percent and median fall by 4 percent. And there were mixed but fairly stable results from Fasig-Tipton’s Texas summer sale, where median climbed but average slid 4 percent.

Ontario’s lucrative slots program at racetracks came under threat in 2012, affecting yearling prices in the important breeding province. At the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society’s yearling sale, average fell 21 percent, and by year’s end Woodbine was handing out pink slips as breeders worried that Ontario-bred values could fall further in 2013.

The star among regional sales was Fasig-Tipton’s New York-bred preferred auction at Saratoga. Aqueduct’s gaming revenues have added momentum in New York, and the appeal of slots-fueled purses and incentives was clear at the auction, which saw buoyant (but again selective) upper-market spending and double-digit gains across the board. Those results prompted Fasig-Tipton to add another New York sale to the calendar: October’s fall mixed sale. But the results there were marred by a 41 percent buyback rate.

Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum’s Shadwell Estate Co. led yearling buyers by expenditures, with 20 yearlings costing $9.75 million. Among them was the year’s most-expensive, a $1.65 million Distorted Humor colt out of Mushka whom Betty Moran consigned through Eaton Sales.

The 2012 yearling auction season also marked the end of an era as pensioned A.P. Indy’s final yearlings passed through the auction ring. The Lane’s End stallion was 2012’s leading yearling sire by average price, with nine horses averaging $466,111.

Like select yearling auctions, select juvenile sales also generally performed well. The Barretts and OBS March sales put up steep increases in average and median before Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale rang up a 35 percent gain in average and a 14 percent upswing in median, selling three seven-figure horses. OBS’s April sale followed with records for average ($43,726) and median ($27,000). Barretts May also saw double-digit gains in average and median, and Fasig Midlantic’s May sale also increased across the board. Keeneland’s April sale was less bullish but steady: It had a lower median, $115,000 versus 2011’s $130,000, but average was slightly higher, by less than 1 percent.

Distorted Humor was the juvenile auction season’s leading sire by average with five 2-year-olds averaging $397,000. The leading consignor by sales was Ciaran Dunne’s Wavertree Stables, which grossed more than $13.2 million from 98 juveniles; one of them was 2012’s highest-priced juvenile, the $1.3 million Big Brown colt bought by Coolmore at Fasig-Tipton Florida.

Sheikh Mohammed may have been relatively quiet at 2012’s select yearling sales, but just four purchases − all at Fasig-Tipton Florida − made him the juvenile season’s leading buyer overall with $3,670,000.


Results of selected 2012 sales

(Change from 2011 in parentheses)

YEARLING SALES

SALE SOLD GROSS AVG. MEDIAN
Fasig-Tipton July 189 (-1%) $15,364,000 (15%) $81,291 (16%) $60,000 (0%)
Saratoga August 107 (-4%) 32,000,000 (-3%) 299,065 (-6%) 215,000 (-14%)
OBS August 540 (3%) 10,936,000 (23%) 20,251 (20%) 13,000 (30%)
Keeneland September 2,516 (-12%) 219,781,500 (-2%) 87,354 (14%) 45,000 (50%)
Woodbine September 255 (-8%) 4,490,755 (-27%) 17,610 (-21%) 8,111 (-43%)
FTK October 880 (18%) 22,991,600 (26%) 26,127 (6%) 12,750 (6%)
Barretts October 174 (13%) 4,006,600 (54%) 23,026 (36%) 18,000 (85%)


JUVENILE SALES

SALE SOLD GROSS AVG. MEDIAN
OBS March 181 (-24%) $24,959,500 (1%) $137,897 (32%) $100,000 (43%)
FTK Florida March 60 (-31%) 19,215,000 (-7%) 320,250 (35%) 225,000 (13%)
Barretts March 77 (40%) 8,426,000 (52%) 109,428 (9%)  85,000 (31%)
Keeneland April 59 (-16%) 9,754,000 (-16%) 165,322 (0%) 115,000 (-12%)
OBS April 780 (-6%) 34,106,400 (31%) 43,726 (40%) 27,000 (35%)
FT Midlantic May 313 (9%) 16,871,000 (4%) 53,900 (14%) 28,000 (12%)


MIXED SALES

SALE SOLD GROSS AVG. MEDIAN
Keeneland January 1,003 (-29%) $37,991,900 (50%) $37,878 (53%) $15,000 (100%)
Barretts January 162 (-37%) 982,500 (-28%) 6,064 (14%) 3,000 (20%)
OBS October 287 (1%) 2,953,400 (30%) 10,291 (23%) 7,000 (40%)
Keeneland November 2,414 (5%) 143,025,600 (-31%) 59,248 (-27%) 22,000 (-8%)
FTK November 87 (10%) 60,220,000 (84%) 692,184 (67%) 190,000 (-5%)