11/09/2016 8:32PM

Keeneland November: Good returns to end Book 1

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Unrivaled Belle sold for $3.8 million to lead Keeneland November.

The elite Book 1 portion of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale displayed continued interest from buyers in high-end offerings, closing on Wednesday with gains in average and median sale price, topped by the $3.8-million broodmare Unrivaled Belle.

After two days of trade, a total of 253 horses sold for $102,919,000, down 5 percent from last year’s first book when slightly more horses, 279, went for $108,878,000.

The average sale price improved 4 percent, up to $406,704 from $390,244, while the median increased 13 percent to $260,000 from $230,000. The buyback rate finished at 29 percent, up slightly from 28 percent last year.

Six horses sold for $2 million or more in Book 1, staying even with the 2015 edition. The number of seven-figure purchases fell to 18 from 21, while horses sold for $500,000 or more rose to 64 from 55.

With the narrow and divisive results of Tuesday night’s presidential election causing some fluctuation in economic markets domestic and abroad overnight, there was some degree of uncertainty entering Wednesday’s trade. However, Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, said he did not see any significant impact on buyer interest or final returns directly attributed to the election.

“It didn’t seem to affect the stock market today, so I don’t think it really affected us,” he said. “I think everybody was concerned starting off, because nobody likes change and everybody expected a different result. There was a little concern about exchange rates early, but it changed as the day went on, and the dollar’s back strong where it belongs. It didn’t seem to stop international buyers today, so I think all is well.”

The most expensive broodmare and weanling of Book 1 both came out of Wednesday’s session.

Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm went to $3.8 million to secure the sale topper, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle.

The 10-year-old Unbridled’s Song mare sold in foal to Tapit. Her lone starter to date is the 2-year-old Tapit filly Unique Bella, who finished second in her career debut on June 23 at Santa Anita.

"She's gorgeous,” Pope said. “We have good thoughts about the 2-year-old. Hopefully, she'll go on and do something. We'll breed her back to Tapit. What a hell of a race mare.

“She's a big-sized mare, rangy, good bone, but not overly huge,” Pope continued. “I think she's a good fit for Tapit."

Pope locked into a drawn-out bidding war for the mare with Don Alberto Corp., which bought Unique Bella, for $400,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale.

Unrivaled Belle was bred in Kentucky by Gary Seidler and Peter Vesgo, who also campaigned her during her on-track career. She won six of 14 starts for $1,854,706, with her Breeders’ Cup win bolstered by victories in the Grade 2 La Troienne Stakes, the Grade 3 Rampart Stakes, and the non-graded Real Prize Stakes. She also placed in four additional Grade 1 races.

Wednesday’s sale marked the second time Unrivaled Belle went through a mixed auction, first selling to Brushwood Stable for $2.8 million at the 2011 Keeneland November sale. She was the fourth-most expensive offering of that auction.

Eaton Sales consigned Unrivaled Belle, as agent.

"I thought she would be above $2 million, but you never want to get greedy in your thoughts prior to the sale,” said Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales. “It was a nice price. Mandy really bought a unique mare, and her daughter by Tapit, a 2-year-old, worked 1:11 flat in hand today at Santa Anita, so this is a talented filly. Her value could go up, believe it or not. We're pleased with it, I think Mandy's pleased with it, it's a win-win for everybody."

The weanling market was topped by a War Front colt out of the placed Australian-bred Encosta de Lago mare Drifting Cube, who sold to the Coolmore partnership for $1.45 million.

The price tied for the sixth-highest for a weanling in Keeneland November history.

"He comes from one of the best Australian families,” said M.V. Magnier, who signed the ticket. “We've had a lot of success with the family in the past with Rubick [a Group 2-winning full bother to Drifting Cube]. He was one of the fastest 2-year-olds of his crop down there.

"He was a very good mover with a lot of quality,” Magnier said of the colt. “Let's hope he keeps on improving."

The bay colt is the first foal out of Drifting Cube, who was a $1,018,600 broodmare prospect purchase by John G. Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm out of the 2014 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale. The mare is from one of Australia's most dominant family lines, with a page that includes Group 1 winner and top international sire Redoute's Choice, Group 1 winners Hurricane Sky, Umatilla, Manhattan Rain, Platinum Scissors, and Group 3 winners Sliding Cube, Rubick, and Precious Lorraine.

"This horse sold very well,” Sikura said. “It's very fulfilling because I went to Australia, bought two mares, and they were very expensive. I felt like a fish out of water. I was in the Southern Hemisphere, and the pedigrees were a little unfamiliar, but I took a deep breath and bought two expensive maiden fillies from the Teeley dispersal, which was descendent of the best female family in Australia.” 

Perennial leading commercial sire Tapit of Gainesway was the top covering sire of Book 1, with 17 in-foal mares bringing $9,625,000, including Unrivaled Belle. War Front of Claiborne Farm was the top covering sire by average sale price, with three mares bringing an average of $2,216,667.

Eaton Sales was the first book’s leading consignor by gross, with 25 horses sold for $14,220,000. The international partnership of SF Bloodstock and Newgate Farm was the leading buyer of Book 1, with 11 purchases totaling $6,515,000.

Wednesday’s session produced 138 horses sold for revenues of $52,764,000, down 17 percent from last year’s second day when 143 horses changed hands for $63,784,000.

The average sale price declined 14 percent to $382,348 from $446,042, while the median rose 4 percent to $260,000 from $250,000. The buyback rate remained unchanged between sessions at 25 percent.

At the top of the market, the number of horses sold for $2 million or more fell to three from five during last year’s comparable session, while seven-figure transactions dropped sharply to eight from 14. However, the 33 offerings at the $500,000 level or greater outpaced the 31 from last year.

It is worth note that last year’s second session produced a North American-record $3.2-million weanling and the $6-million champion Take Charge Brandi, who was the most expensive horse to sell at Keeneland November since 2007. Though there are plenty of factors that go into a session’s comparative returns, last year’s second day did produce some anomalies.

“It was a very good sale today,” Russell said. “Strong across the board for mares, strong for foals. Mixed sales vary from year to year. You can’t do a direct comparison. We’d like to have had a $6-million mare, but we didn’t. I thought it was a very strong sale from top to bottom.”

Tapit was the day’s top covering sire by gross and average among those with three or more sold, with four pregnant mares bringing $5,950,000 and an average of $1,487,500.

Eaton Sales was the day’s leading consignor by gross, with 15 horses sold for $14,220,000, including the session-topper.

Whisper Hill Farm was the day’s top buyer, purchasing two horses for a combined $4,850,000, which also included top mare Unrivaled Belle.

The Keeneland November sale continues daily through Nov. 20, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern.

For complete sale results, click here.

Keeneland November, Book 1 results

Year Sold Gross Average Median Buyback
2016 253 $102,919,000 (-5%) $406,704 (+4%) $260,000 (+13%) 29%
2015 279 $108,878,000 $390,244 $230,000 28%