01/03/2014 3:43PM

Keeneland January: Sale should reflect market strength

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Photos by Z/Keeneland
The Keeneland January mixed sale begins Jan. 6 in Lexington, Ky.

The Keeneland January sale of horses of all ages is in a somewhat contradictory spot on the calendar, but given the direction of the market, that’s not a bad place to be.

The four-day auction will be the first major North American sale of 2014, running from Monday through Thursday in Lexington, Ky., and it will be the first follow-up to a robust 2013 sales season.

However, the sale is more accurately an extension of the 2013 auction calendar, serving as the major coda to Kentucky’s fall mixed season before the industry shifts its attention to the 2-year-olds-in-training portion of the schedule this spring.

“The sale cycle doesn’t run on the normal calendar,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “Our calendar’s totally different. Our calendar is July 1-June 30. The yearling sales traditionally kick the season off, so this is just a continuation of the breeding stock sales that start in October and go through November, December, and into January and February. It’s just the time of year for the breeding aspect of it.”

The January sale will mark the first major mixed sale in Kentucky since the conclusion of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, which featured a record-tying cumulative median sale price and a dramatic decline in the buyback rate. Across the board, sales figures returned to levels not seen since before the market crash of the late 2000s, and competitive bidding helped funnel money into the middle and lower markets.

That bodes well for the January sale, which Russell said typically mirrors the November sale, for better or worse.

“We all live in hope,” Russell said. “That’s what this game is all about. I think the market has stabilized, and I think people have shown great interest. We just hope that they like the catalog. There’s good quality in there, and now it’s up to them.”

This year’s January catalog features a total of 1,590 broodmares and broodmare prospects, newly turned yearlings, racing prospects, and stallion prospects. The pool of offerings is 16 percent smaller than the 2013 edition, which featured 1,893 horses cataloged over five sessions.

Russell said the decrease in supply was expected after the 2013 edition featured the high-profile dispersal of Issam Fares’s Fares Farm, which sold 78 horses for total revenue of $7,313,000. This year’s January sale does not have a marquee dispersal to serve as that tent pole.

“It’s the temperature of the market,” Russell said. “Last year, we had the Fares dispersal, so that probably attracted a few more entries. I think last year probably would have been the odd one out more than anything. We were a little surprised that we actually had five days last year, and we could probably put that down to the Fareses having their dispersal.”

Among the horses cataloged for the January sale, 614 will be newly turned yearlings. This portion of the market is a place for pinhookers to fill their rosters for the yearling sales later in the year, and the positive returns generated during the most recent yearling season has helped increase the buying capital for many in that sector.

However, the right yearling can get a big price out of an end-user buyer as well. Such was the case at last year’s auction, where Canadian-based Nat Rea’s Regis Farms made a yearling filly by Street Sense the sale-topper, with a final bid of $1.45 million.

“The market we see at the moment is a very fair market where buyers are willing to spend good money on what, to use the cliché, ticks all the boxes,” Russell said about the short-yearling sector.

“It’s a very fair market, but it is not an aggressive market, so consignors have to be careful on their appraisal of their horses going in. We saw that in September, and we saw it again in November, and I think this [sale] will be a continuation of that.

“If we can continue on having a ‘fair market’ for breeders and consignors to get a good return on their investment, and buyers feel they are getting a good price, it’s a healthy aspect for our market. What we’ve seen both in September and November is that all three levels of the market have shown strength, which is very positive. It’s a good thing for our industry.”

Stallions represented by their first crops of yearlings at the Keeneland January sale include American Lion, Archarcharch, Cape Blanco, Courageous Cat, D’ Funnybone, Drosselmeyer, Dublin, E Z’s Gentleman, Flagship, Giant Oak, Giant Surprise, Gio Ponti, Girolamo, Haynesfield, Here Comes Ben, Ice Box, Paddy O’Prado, Regal Ransom, Sidney’s Candy, Silver Mountain, Society’s Chairman, Trappe Shot, Twirling Candy, Uncle Mo, and Wilburn.

The 2013 sale closed with 1,105 horses sold over five sessions for a total of $45,207,300, the ninth-highest gross since the sale’s inception in 1956 and a 19 percent improvement from the previous year’s sale.

The average sale price of $40,912 was the sixth highest in Keeneland January history and an 8 percent increase over the 2012 edition, while the median tied for the third highest, even with the prior renewal at $15,000.

The $1.45 million Street Sense filly secured by Regis Farms not only topped the 2013 sale but also brought the second-highest price for a yearling in the sale’s history. The dark bay or brown filly is out of the Grade 3-placed stakes-winning Doc’s Leader mare Please Sign In, the dam of European highweight and Group 1 winner Certify and Grade 1 winner Cry and Catch Me.

Grade 1 winner Nereid was the highest-priced broodmare of the 2013 January sale, going to Baumann Stables for $1.3 million. The Rock Hard Ten mare was offered as a broodmare prospect after a racing career that included three wins in 11 starts for earnings of $303,800, highlighted by a dead-heat win in the Grade 1 American Oaks in 2011.

Sessions of the Keeneland January sale will begin each day at 10 a.m. Eastern.

To access a catalog, click here.