04/08/2013 7:45PM

Keeneland April sale: strong gains end select juvenile season on high note

Photos by Z/Keeneland
An Unbridled's Song filly sold for $700,000 to lead the 2013 Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale.

A $700,000 Unbridled’s Song filly, a younger half-sister to Grade 1 winner Eden’s Moon, provided the market’s high point Monday at the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale, which continued the juvenile sale season’s trend of strong gains in average and median price.

New York-based bloodstock agent John McCormack bought the bay filly for an undisclosed client and pronounced that “the confidence in the market has come back” as buyers felt more comfortable spending for bloodstock, five years removed from the shock of 2008’s economic collapse.

Monday’s one-day auction sold 59 juveniles for $11,640,000, up 19 percent compared with last year’s gross. The average price, $197,288, also rose 19 percent, and the median price of $150,000 did even better, jumping 25 percent from last year. The sale’s buyback rate also fell to 26 percent, down sharply from 38 percent a year ago.

Last year’s April sale grossed $9,754,000 after selling 59 horses from an initial catalog of 161. The 2012 sale posted an average price of $165,332 and a $120,000 median.

Fifty-seven horses ultimately were withdrawn from the 2013 auction. Consignors will scratch a horse if it shows a niggling physical problem but also if they are concerned that there is not enough interest in the horse to effect a good sale. There were fewer horses scratched this year than at the 2013 auction, when 66 scratched.

McCormack bid from just outside a pavilion door, standing in the hallway where bidders inside the arena had a more difficult time spotting him. But the bid-spotter had no trouble finding him. McCormack represents a global group of clients who have no qualms about bidding high at select auctions, though they often remain anonymous. This one did as well, though McCormack, after signing the receipt for Hip No. 51, said of the filly: “She was bought for an existing client, and she’ll likely go back to Europe. She breezed well, she’s beautifully bred, so you hope. For that kind of filly, you’d have to be thinking in that sort of level.”

The bay filly was a Feb. 12 foal last year. In addition to her famous half-sister Eden’s Moon, she also has champion Paradise Creek and Grade 1 winners Forbidden Apple and Wild Event under her second dam, North of Eden. That mare also is the dam of Paradise River, the dam of multiple Group 1 winner and English highweight David Junior.

The sale-topping filly previously had failed to reach her reserve at last year’s Keeneland September auction, where she left the ring with $245,000 on the board.

Ciaran and Amy Dunne’s Wavertree Stables agency, who led all sellers by a wide margin with 19 juveniles sold for $4,445,000, consigned the sale-topper. At the auction’s April 4 under-tack show, she breezed a furlong in a rapid :10 seconds flat, a shade slower than the preview’s fastest time for that distance. That was the :9.80 seconds that Hip No. 78 put up; consigned by Niall Brennan’s agency, that Dixie Union-Lemon Blossom filly sold for $300,000 to Marc Keller.

McCormack called the Keeneland April sale “a very proven market” and said: “There’s a bit of pedigree here that may not show up in some other sales, and it’s here in the backyard of a lot of very good breeders, and a lot of good owners come for racing, so it meshes well together.

“At the 2-year-old sales, you can’t get it all,” he added. “It’s going to be spotty for some people, and it’s going to be a breakout for someone else. The lads who do consign these 2-year-olds, they deserve every penny, because they do go through a lot of hardship. They think they have something in hand and it doesn’t happen, and they regroup.”

One consignor who was regrouping Monday was E. J. Sipus, Jr., the former jockey who now runs the Richwood South training operation in Florida. Sipus and some partners brought a single horse to Keeneland’s auction and took her home again unsold on a hammer price of $60,000. Sipus was unfazed, having been through both the downs and the ups as a juvenile consignor; among his graduates is two-time Grade 1 winner Evening Jewel.

“We keep seeing the same market, where all the buyers seem to fall on the same horses that go fast,” Sipus said. Sipus’ filly, a Divine Park daughter from the family of graded stakes performer Impending Bear, had breezed her eighth-mile in 10.8 seconds. “If you vet and you have a great physical and a great pedigree and you work fast, that’s what they all tend to flock to. But we have Derby winners that have worked in the middle of the sales sheet, like 21 2/5 or 10 2/5 [seconds], and those horses can get overlooked by the masses, because we get so locked into the time. There are a lot of good horses who fall through the cracks.”

Sipus was quick to add that he didn’t consider himself disgruntled, though he’d like to see less pushing of sale 2-year-olds.

“For me, I stick to my own standards,” he said simply. “I’m not going to crush a horse to appease a market. I’m only selling a horse or two a year, and I usually have a vested interest. I’ve sold better horses and stakes horses that have worked 10 3/5 and 10 4/5 [seconds] with a clean vet, so I’m going to stick to what I do.”

“It looks like they’re giving you all the money on certain horses, like every other boutique sale we’ve done this year,” said consignor Eddie Woods, who sold nine juveniles for $1,850,000. Those ranged in price from $75,000 for an A. P. Indy-Gourmet Girl filly that agent Arif Kurtel bought, to $535,000 for an Arch-Falling Springs colt that agent Steven Young bought; both of those breezed an eighth in :10.4 seconds, and the Arch colt was the sale’s highest-priced colt and second highest-priced horse overall.

“When they line up, they give you more than you think you’re going to get,” Woods said. “Or else there’s nobody home.”

Woods said he expects a broader buying group at the upcoming Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s spring juvenile sale, which has cataloged 1,195 horses for its April 22-25 auction. “It will be a different ball game, [with] people to buy horses,” Woods said. “It’s a completely different scenario.”

But Woods noted that he’s a fan of the smaller boutique auctions.

“We had a couple of massive hits down in Palm Meadows last year [at Fasig-Tipton’s select Florida sale] that were like getting hit by lightning, and we just didn’t have those horses this year,” he said. “We’ve done good here today with a couple. ... We need outlets, and the more the merrier.”

These smaller, select sales might present a thinner, more challenging market for sellers, but the strength of the upper-market crust lent credence to McCormack’s view that high-level investors were growing more comfortable spending for bloodstock again.

“I think the last two or three years, when it was a bit tough, the money hadn’t gone away,” said McCormack, the agent who bought the sale-topping filly. “It’s just that the confidence had gone away. I think people feel more steady to spend now.”

For hip-by-hip results, click here.

Year Sold Total Average Median Buyback
2013 59 $11,640,000 (+19%) $197,288 (+19%) $150,000 (+25%) 26%
2012 59 $9,754,000 $165,322 $120,000 38%