11/01/2017 1:10PM

Keeneland November sale looks to ride yearling sales momentum

Keeneland Photo
The Keeneland November breeding stock sale begins on Nov. 7.

The Keeneland November breeding stock sale is built on laying foundations for the future, from broodmares and prospects purchased with the hope of bolstering stud books and breeding programs, to the weanlings with their lives in front of them.

This year’s edition, like many before it, also draws much of its appeal from its celebration of the present. Champion Stellar Wind and multiple Grade 1 winner Lady Eli will be among the horses shipping to Lexington, Ky., from Del Mar in the days following starts in their respective Breeders’ Cup races to go through the ring.

Combining the present and future with the past performance of a record-setting Keeneland September yearling sale earlier this year has produced expectations that this year’s November sale will be a strong renewal.

A great deal of momentum for the upcoming auction, as well as a good chunk of the capital to be spent, was set up during the Keeneland September sale, which finished with all-time high average and median sale prices.

“If you look at what transpired kicking off with the Keeneland September yearling sale, from the very beginning to the very end, there was tremendous commerce, and it’s carried on in the yearling market, domestic and abroad,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales. “The sellers that bred those horses, the yearlings that did well, are looking to reinvest in quality. They’re looking to go back in either pinhooking weanlings or buying mares to elevate their broodmare bands. All that suggests we’re going to have a dynamite sale.”

The 12-day auction will take place Nov. 7-18, leading off with the elite Book 1 during the first two sessions, which will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern. All remaining sessions will start at 10 a.m.

This year’s catalog has 4,147 entries, down 13 percent from last year’s November sale, which had 4,763 horses on offer.

Supply and demand in the Thoroughbred marketplace has seen a significant shift in recent years. The North American foal crop is expected to level out after dropping steadily from a mild plateau of about 35,000 in the mid-2000s, and the highest peak of more than 51,000 during the 1980s, to a point where the projected 2017 foal crop of 22,500 would be the smallest since 1967.

The overall Thoroughbred population and the commercially viable portion of that group do not necessarily expand and contract at the same rate, but significant and sustained drops in the annual horse population will inevitably cut into the number of commercial Thoroughbreds available for auction. The very top of the market will almost always be immune to such factors, but levels further down the ladder will see fewer fillies entering broodmare service, creating greater urgency when a quality mare goes on the market.

“Hopefully, there’s a higher demand because there’s fewer supply,” said Walker Hancock of Claiborne Farm. “I think that’s why you’ve seen the averages rise and the trickle-down effect from the top go so far back.

“People still want horses, they still love horse racing, but when there’s fewer of them, they’ve got to fight for them and just pay more money, and I think that’s what we’re starting to see. I don’t think the shrinking of numbers is a bad thing at all. If anything, it’s goosing up the bottom of the market.”

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Like the September yearling sale, where prominent buyers seen in the high-end first books were still shopping in the waning sessions, solid trade is expected to reach deep into the catalog.

Fierce competition in the mid to late sessions is the hallmark of a healthy marketplace and can create some pleasant surprises for sellers who find themselves in the midst of a bidding scuffle. However, a cutthroat buying bench also can make it difficult for those looking to snag a quality mare on a budget.

“I expect it to be a sellers’ market,” bloodstock agent Marc Wampler said. “I’ll be looking to buy mares, but you’ve got to get creative buying these mares. You’ve got to decide what you can sacrifice. Maybe she won $50,000, got through her allowance conditions, could run, wasn’t quite black type, but is by an established broodmare sire. Maybe she’s got a little offset in her knees, something you think you could breed to and help her out.”

This year’s November sale will once again have a horses of racing age section during its second week. That portion of the catalog has seen its profile grow immensely since its initial staging, both in terms of hammer prices and graduate racing performance.

Standout graduates sold in last year’s racing-age portion include Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Diversify, Grade 2 winners Field of Courage and Conquest Panthera, Grade 3 winner Inordinate, and Grade 1-placed Conquest Mo Money.

“It’s good timing at the end of the year for folks to look at what they’ve got, reset their stock for next year, and where there’s residual value for a horse that’s just broken its maiden, that’s someone else’s opportunity,” Elliston said.

Last year’s Keeneland November sale snapped four straight years of gains in gross and average, but still finished as a relatively even renewal with 2,653 horses bringing $215,213,000, down 2 percent from the 2015 edition. The average sale price was down 5 percent to $81,121, the median fell 17 percent to $25,000, and the buyback rate finished at 27 percent.

Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm bought last year’s sale-topper, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle, for $3.8 million. Eaton Sales consigned the Unbridled’s Song mare, who was offered in foal to leading commercial sire Tapit.

The weanling market was led by a War Front colt who sold to M.V. Magnier of the Coolmore partnership for $1.45 million. The colt was the first foal out of the placed Encosta de Lago mare Drifting Cube and was consigned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency, as agent.

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