01/08/2016 5:17PM

Keeneland January preview: Yearling population leads growth in catalog


With the Breeders’ Cup being hosted just a few yards away, sellers filled the catalog for last year’s Keeneland November breeding stock sale to its highest total since 2010. That enthusiasm toward putting horses in the market carried over to the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, led by an influx of newly turned yearlings.

The 2016 renewal of the Keeneland January sale features its largest catalog since 2013, which was highlighted by the big-ticket Fares Farm dispersal, and expands to five days for the first time since the same auction. This year’s renewal will be held Jan. 11-15, beginning each day at 10 a.m. Eastern.

“The January sale has always been a follow-on from November,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It’s a very good, solid catalog. It’s a little larger than last year. Hopefully we can drum up some more demand to take on this extra supply, but people seem to be positive about it, so we look forward to it.”

The 1,796 horses cataloged in the sale marks an increase of 12 percent over the 2015 sale, which featured 1,610 horses cataloged over four days.
Nearly all of the growth in the catalog can be attributed to the newly turned yearlings of 2016. The 729 yearlings cataloged make up 41 percent of the total horses in the sale, up substantially from the 563 yearlings  in last year’s catalog, when accounting for 35 percent of the entries.

Meanwhile, broodmares, broodmare prospects, and racing/broodmare prospects remained steady with the smaller 2015 sale, from 995 last year to 989, and made up a smaller percentage of the overall catalog. Broodmares and prospects saw their share of the catalog decline from 62 percent in 2015 to 55 percent.

Carrie Brogden, of consignor Select Sales and breeder Machmer Hall, said she has noticed a recent shift in the buyer’s bench in the weanling and short-yearling sector, from predominantly yearling pinhookers to a growing population of 2-year-old pinhookers and end-users.

As both a breeder and consignor, she said the broadening of buyers has caused her and her clients to reconsider the quality and number of young horses they send to the mixed sales instead of holding them for the traditional yearling sales.

“I feel like there were more end-users in the weanling market, like J.J. Crupi and some others, who were realizing they could buy weanlings for $200,000 that they would have to pay $400,000 for as yearlings,” she said. “I saw some bigger-named end-users come in to buy the weanlings and they can raise them how they like them, and they don’t have to go through sales.”

Selling a young horse at this point on the calendar also means less expense on the seller’s part, getting a commodity off the books without paying to keep the horse through the spring and summer months until the proper auction yearling season. This can help increase profits with a quality horse, or soften the blow of culling a horse that might not bring a premium price later in the year.

“No one wants an average horse anymore, physically,” Brogden said. “I think the culling is stronger, and I think the people that have the good stuff realize people are paying for the good stuff. It may not get top yearling dollar, but I think there’s plenty of money for the good ones.”

Russell said the increased activity in the short-yearling sector also could be attributed to the stabilization of the North American foal crop over the past few breeding seasons, paired with the generally positive trajectory of the auction market.

The 2015 registered foal crop was estimated by The Jockey Club at 22,000, which is the same figure that was estimated for the foal crop of 2014. If those projections hold true, it would snap a nine-year run of declining foal populations in North America.

Perhaps most importantly, Brogden credited the auction’s steadily improving reputation as a source of quality stock for the spike in entries, particularly among the short yearlings.

“January used to be seen as just a ‘cull’ sale,” she said. “It was just seen as a cull to dump the ones that were too crooked, or too small, or too backward, too this or that. January has become a legitimate sale now where people come to buy legitimate short yearlings, and have done very well either buying them to resell at the 2-year-old sales, buying them to sell again as yearlings, or buying them to race.”

The 2015 renewal of the Keeneland January sale posted across-the-board declines, with 948 horses sold for revenues of $35,305,500, down 14 percent from the previous year. The average sale price fell 7 percent to $37,242, while the median declined 20 percent to $16,000. The buyback rate rose from 20 percent to 25 percent.

The sale was led by the mother/daughter combo of Irish Group 2 winner Up and her yearling War Front filly, who topped their respective categories as the sale’s two most-expensive offerings.

Up, a daughter of Galileo, sold to Ran Jan Racing and Jan Vandebos for $2.2 million, making her the only seven-figure offering of the sale and the most expensive horse to change hands at a Keeneland January sale since 2008. Previously owned by the Coolmore partnership and consigned as agent by Four Star Sales, Up sold in foal to War Front and was bred to Tapit for the 2016 breeding season.

Up’s yearling filly, the mare’s first foal, went to bloodstock agency Solis & Litt for $800,000. She was later named Upfront.