12/18/2015 3:47PM

2015 Year in Sales: Steady but selective market

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Champion Take Charge Brandi was the most expensive horse sold at North American public auction in 2015, going to Hill 'n' Dale for $6 million at the Keeneland November sale.

The North American auction market continued to find its statistical cruising speed in 2015 after several years of upward momentum, though it was not clear sailing for all.

Buyers showed an increased willingness to dig in their heels and engage in bidding wars for especially coveted offerings at major auctions, particularly those by fashionable commercial sires such as Tapit and War Front, which drove some sales and offerings to record heights.

While greater competition boosted hammer prices on blue-chip offerings, the growing selectivity of buyers toward that upper crust meant it became harder for many to secure the horses they targeted, which trickled down to the lower tiers.

Conversely, consignors and auction staff noted that buyers had become less forgiving toward horses with perceived flaws, which, combined with a growing tendency from high-end sellers to hold on to their stock if the price wasn’t right, caused some horses that drew hefty bids to return to their owners and the overall buyback rates to climb.

The polarization between the competitive upper market and the sometimes-sparse lower levels balanced out to numbers comparable to 2014 in the industry’s key measuring sticks, which kept them close to the levels seen prior to the industry crash of the late 2000s.

Yearlings

The proper yearling season kicked off on a strong note, with the Fasig-Tipton July select yearling sale posting its strongest renewal in nearly a decade.

Revenues were up 31 percent, with 205 horses bringing a total of $20,005,000. The average closed at $97,585, up 4 percent, while the median rose 10 percent to $77,000, both reaching their highest points since 2007. A Tapit filly led the proceedings, going to bloodstock agent Steven Young, acting for an undisclosed client, for $500,000.

That momentum continued into the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale. In total, 145 horses brought $46,755,000, up 40 percent, while the average sale price rose 10 percent to $322,448 and the median increased 5 percent to $250,000. The buyback rate was just 15 percent.

An Irish-bred Tapit colt out of the Grade 3-winning Galileo mare Dress Rehearsal topped the sale at $2 million, selling to El Capi Racing. He was the highest-priced yearling sold at the sale since 2009.

The Keeneland September yearling sale held in near lockstep with the 2014 renewal with a revised select format that reduced Book 1 from four days to three.

The 2,745 horses sold over 12 sessions for total receipts of $281,496,100 was a 1 percent increase from last year’s 13-day auction, which itself changed less than a percent from 2013. It marked the seventh-highest gross in Keeneland September history.

The average sale price reached its third-highest point, rising 3 percent to $102,549, while the median price finished at a record-tying $50,000. The buyback rate was 24 percent, up slightly from 22 percent in 2014.

At the top of the market, 11 horses sold for seven figures, trailing last year’s total by two. However, the 69 yearlings to bring $500,000 or more bettered the 67 to do so in 2014, and the number of overall horses to fetch six figures or better increased from 858 to 900, or 5 percent.

A Tapit colt went to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm for $2.1 million to top the sale and become the most-expensive yearling sold at auction in North America in 2015. Bred by Gainesway Thoroughbreds, the colt is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Silver Colors, who herself is a daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors.

The sale further drove home the commercial dominance of Gainesway stallion Tapit, who was the auction’s leading sire by gross for the fourth consecutive year, led by the sale’s two most-expensive offerings. It was the second straight year that a Tapit yearling topped or co-topped the sale.

Claiborne Farm sire War Front led by average sale price among stallions with three or more sold, with 21 horses changing hands for an average of $600,714.

The Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall yearling sale concluded the yearling sales season with a record number of horses cataloged.

However, the sale’s growth in number could not keep up the record pace of returns in previous editions, with 854 yearlings changing hands for $29,369,300, down 2 percent to the second-highest in the sale’s history. The average sale price fell 4 percent to $34,390, while the median was down 19 percent to $15,000. The buyback rate rose to 31 percent from 21 percent in 2014. The sale-topper was a $410,000 Tapit colt.

The OBS August yearling sale saw a decline in gross but steady returns on average and median during its select session, while the two-day open session finished with gains in average and median and an improved buyback rate.

Barretts split its yearling season into a separate select auction and an inaugural open yearling sale. With a much smaller catalog, the select sale more than doubled its median and saw a 64 percent growth in average, though the buyback was up.

Regional sales were a mixed bag, with stable, lucrative programs seeing the strongest returns, led by the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale, which posted record gross and average and tied the record median.

Two-year-olds in training

The landscape of the North American juvenile market saw significant changes in 2015, with expanded catalogs, new locations, and cancellations, along with some record performances.

Once again, Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. had a landmark season as the industry’s highest-volume seller of 2-year-olds, highlighted by the most-expensive offering in the auction house’s history.

The calendar began for the central Florida company with its March 2-year-olds in training sale, which removed its traditional “select” modifier and expanded its catalog from 411 entries to 610.

The resulting sale produced record revenues of $55,432,000, up 47 percent from the previous year. Average and median fell from record highs, with the average sale price dipping 9 percent to $170,560 and the median falling 19 percent to $105,000. Live Oak Plantation bought the $1.4 million sale topper, a Bernardini colt.

A $1.9 million Tapit filly became the most-expensive horse to sell in an OBS ring, going to Solis/Litt, agent, during the spring 2-year-olds in training sale in April.

That sale helped drive a record-high average of $79,068, up 7 percent from the previous year’s high-water mark, while the median tied last year’s all-time high of $45,000. Both were record-setting or -tying performances for the fourth straight year. Receipts decreased 6 percent to $53,291,900.

The OBS June 2-year-olds in training and horses of racing age sale continued the record-setting trend, with the sale’s record-high price being topped or equaled in each of the four sessions, finally led by a $680,000 Candy Ride colt sold to Susan Chu.

Revenues were up 6 percent at $24,176,500 and the average sale price rose 28 percent to $39,699, both OBS June records, while the median fell 10 percent to $18,000.

The Fasig-Tipton Florida 2-year-olds in training sale was held in the paddock of Gulfstream Park, the auction’s fourth location since 2010. The auction’s expanded catalog and nightlife atmosphere helped drive a 50 percent increase in receipts to $20,095,500, but the average fell 21 percent to $225,792 and the median fell 28 percent to $130,000. M.V. Magnier, representing the Coolmore partnership, signed the $1.4 million ticket on a Scat Daddy half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern.

On the heels of a strong season by its alumni, the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale posted a record-breaking or -tying gross, average, and median highlighted by the highest-price horse ever sold at the auction company’s Timonium, Md., location – a $1.25 million Smart Strike filly purchased by Ben McElroy, agent.

Barretts held its final auction at Fairplex Park in Pomona, Calif., when its select 2-year-olds in training sale in late February posted across-the-board declines, then hosted its first event at its new base at Del Mar, with the May 2-year-olds in training sale generating improved figures.

Fasig-Tipton held its last edition of the Texas 2-year-olds in training sale in March, finalizing the auction company’s withdrawal from its base at Lone Star Park. The Texas Thoroughbred Association planned to revive the sale in 2016 under its own jurisdiction.

Mixed sales

The breeding stock and weanling/short yearling market started in the first months of the year with the same trajectory from the last months of 2014 – downward, but not panic-inducing.

The Keeneland January horses of all ages sale sold 948 horses for a total of $35,305,500, down 14 percent from the previous year. The average fell 7 percent to $32,242 and the median dropped 20 percent to $16,000.

Multiple group stakes winner Up, in foal to War Front, was the sale’s lone seven-figure horse, going to Ran Jan Racing for $2.2 million, while her yearling War Front filly brought the sale’s second-highest price at $800,000, to LNJ Foxwoods.

The Fasig-Tipton Kentucky winter mixed sale followed, with declines between 22 percent and 25 percent in the three major indices. WinStar Farm bought sale-topping multiple Grade 3 winner Rose to Gold for $450,000.

The Fasig-Tipton Kentucky selected fall mixed sale had a rather muted edition, with 92 horses selling for $43,666,000, down 31 percent from 2014. The average sale price fell 20 percent to $474,630, while the median rose 18 percent to $235,000.

Typically known as a popular destination for fireworks-producing horses, the 2015 Fasig-Tipton November sale had 14 offerings bring seven figures, down from 23 the previous year.

Leading the way was Angela Renee, a Grade 1-winning Bernardini filly and full sister to Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve who sold to Don Alberto Corp. for $3 million. Mill Valley Racing secured the sale’s top weanling, a $600,000 Tapit colt.

The Keeneland November breeding stock sale featured its largest catalog since 2010 and posted a gross of $218,959,400, up 6 percent. The average sale price rose 4 percent to $85,033, while the median fell 14 percent to $30,000. Twenty-two horses brought seven figures, outperforming the 18 to do so in 2014.

Champion Take Charge Brandi became the highest-priced horse of the 2015 mixed calendar when she sold to John G. Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms for $6 million. The hammer price made Take Charge Brandi, a 3-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway, the eighth-most-expensive horse to change hands through the Keeneland November ring, and the most expensive since 2007.

For the second straight year, a North American record sale price for a weanling was achieved. This time, it was a War Front filly out of Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady who sold to Whisper Hill Farm for $3.2 million.