01/06/2012 2:09PM

Keeneland January sale looks to build on fall sale's momentum

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – Keeneland’s January mixed auction, which runs Jan. 9-12, already has one positive factor: a 13 percent smaller catalog. Shorter supply helped the Thoroughbred market achieve better stability last season, and it’s one of the reasons Keeneland sale director Geoffrey Russell feels optimistic about the 2012 January sale. Another reason: the autumn’s better-than-expected sale results for both yearlings and breeding stock.

“We hope the momentum that was created in 2011’s sales, and the stability there, will continue on,” Russell said. “I think the catalog is comparable to last year. The size is a little bit less, and, according to Economics 101, I’m hoping that will help supply and demand.

“In 2011, we saw people who were frustrated with their investments put more money back into the Thoroughbred market, which I think is good. They’re not making very much money in stocks, and they have cash, so they’re investing it in things they know, like Thoroughbreds. The fact that all the million-dollar horses in September were bought by domestic buyers and a large percentage of the million-dollar mares in November were bought by domestic interests also shows that the American breeder is back in it again after taking a step back, understandably, for two or three years.”

While foreign-based buyers do participate at this sale (last year’s sale-topper, $1.4 million Ave, went to Japan’s Shadai Farm), American breeders are the auction’s traditional backbone. This year, they’ll have fewer horses to consider. The four-day 2012 January sale cataloged 1,594 horses. As of Friday morning, 255 horses had scratched from the sale, leaving 1,339 horses of all ages: racing prospects, yearlings, broodmares, broodmare prospects, and stallions. The categories Russell expects to perform most strongly are racing-age horses and broodmare prospects, traditionally strong offerings at this auction, as well as yearlings – called “short yearlings” in January because they only turned a year old officially on Jan. 1. The last category should benefit from pinhookers, speculators who buy to resell, that enjoyed good returns in 2011’s recovering yearling auction season.

“We’ve heard that some weanling-to-yearling pinhookers didn’t fill all their orders in November, so hopefully they’ll be busy looking at short yearlings,” Russell said.

Fall breeding stock sales, both at Keeneland and its cross-town rival Fasig-Tipton (and at overseas venues, too), posted hefty increases last year. Boosted considerably by the late Ned Evans’s tony dispersal and the presence of recent Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Royal Delta, who brought a sale-topping $8.5 million from Benjamin Leon, Keeneland’s November auction soared. Average price shot up 62 percent, and median improved by 41 percent. Earlier, the Fasig-Tipton sale rang up a 32 percent average price increase and a 54 percent gain in median. In such a competitive atmosphere, some buyers couldn’t afford the horses they wanted, and that could bode well for the January auction.

“I know some people went home from November without buying horses, so hopefully they’ll be here in January,” Russell said.

Six weeks away from the breeding season’s mid-February opening, broodmares and broodmare prospects usually are the January auction’s stars. Given last fall’s prices for quality mares, they’ll especially bear watching in January.

This year, the catalog includes several mares who already have good produce records, including a pair that became Grade 1 producers after the catalog’s publication. Letithappencaptain, Hip No. 408, got a brilliant update when her son Ultimate Eagle captured the Nov. 27 Hollywood Derby. She’s offered in foal to Bellamy Road. And Topliner, cataloged as Hip No. 198 in foal to Medaglia d’Oro, is the dam of Nov. 25 Matriarch winner Star Billing.

Of course, those aren’t the only Grade 1-connected horses in the catalog. Other mares with Grade 1 winners include Ice Box’s dam Spice Island (153), carrying a full sibling; and Pioneerof the Nile’s dam Star of Goshen (157), in foal to Zensational. Among other mares with Grade 1 performers are the dams of Caracortado (61), Danzon (229), Workin for Hops (294), Silver Knockers (396), Barcola (449), By the Light (691), Gitchee Goomie (895), Checker Hall (1033), and Roman Commander (1163), to name a few.

There’s a healthy supply of Grade 1 performers among the broodmares and racing/broodmare prospects, too. Some of these are Dr. Zic (696), Jessica Is Back (385), Mrs. Lindsay (448), Grace Anatomy (355), Satans Quick Chick (124), She’s Cheeky (134), Singapore Lilly (139), St Trinians (539), Summer Wind Dancer (543), Tanda (553), Cozi Rosie (675), and Indulgence (754) There also is an unusually interesting unraced broodmare. That’s Magnificent Honour (417), a daughter of Broodmare of the Year Better Than Honour and a full sister to champion Rags to Riches. She’s carrying a Giant’s Causeway foal.

Speaking of Grade 1 winners, stallion prospect E Z’s Gentleman (1187) fits that bill. The catalog also includes Grade 1-placed Coronet of a Baron (1184) and Desert Key (1185) as well as $700,000-plus earner Ibboyee (1592) in its listing of stallion prospects.

The auction takes place in Keeneland’s sale pavilion Jan. 9-12, with sessions starting at 10 a.m. daily. The sale streams live at www.keeneland.com.