10/23/2015 11:02AM

Sparkman: The Breeders' Cup effect

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Keeneland photo
Royal Delta sold for $8.5 million at Keeneland November days after winning her first Breeders' Cup event.

For the first time in its 32-year history, the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., on Oct. 30-31. On the following day, Nov. 1, Fasig-Tipton Kentucky will hold its annual selected fall mixed sale. On Nov. 2, Keeneland will kick off its 12-day November sale with the first of two select sessions.

This year will mark the ninth time that the Breeders’ Cup has been held at a Kentucky track, with Churchill Downs, 90 miles way on Interstate 64 from Lexington, having hosted the event eight times previously. With the possible exception of the Kentucky Derby, the Breeders’ Cup is the biggest event on the racing calendar and inevitably attracts the owners and connections of the 100 or so runners in the Breeders’ Cup races. Those owners are, logically, potential buyers at the November breeding stock sales.

“The great thing about having the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland this year, or in Kentucky when it’s at Churchill, is that you end up having more principals present rather than just agents,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “We like to have the principals present.”

But is there a real Breeders’ Cup effect on the November sales? Statistics from the Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton November sales that followed the four most recent Breeders’ Cups at Churchill Downs in 2000, 2006, 2010, and 2011 present a very mixed picture. The 2000 Keeneland catalog was 10 percent smaller than the previous year’s, so total proceeds declined, but average price rose slightly while median price dipped 18.8 percent. Six years later, however, with an 11.6 percent larger catalog, total proceeds climbed 8.4 percent, while average dipped 2.9 percent and median price remained level at $35,000, compared with the previous year.

In 2010, however, the continuing effects of the global financial meltdown that began during the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale meant that nothing was going to help the Thoroughbred market, and total proceeds declined 7.7 percent on a 12.4 percent decline in average price and a 15 percent dip in median price.

As shown in the accompanying table, Fasig-Tipton’s November sales results in the same years were very similar in trends but more variable than Keeneland, partly because of the smaller catalogs.

“Whether there’s an overall lift in the November marketplace because of the Breeders’ Cup – I think it’s impossible to evaluate that,” said Boyd Browning, president of Fasig-Tipton. “Every year has its own circumstances in the world financial situation, and I’m not smart enough to figure that out. If you have a major buyer that has a great weekend in the Breeders’ Cup races, they’re going to be stronger than normal. But it’s real if you’ve got the right horse.”

November catalogs are notoriously more variable than yearling sale catalogs, and the most recent Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs provided a textbook illustration of the effect the Breeders’ Cup can have on the sale of a particular horse. On Nov. 4, 2011, Royal Delta, by Empire Maker, won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic, making it certain that she would be voted champion 3-year-old filly. Four days later, Besilu Stables paid a sale-topping $8.5 million for her at Keeneland November. That helped push Keeneland’s total proceeds up a record 41.5 percent despite a 12.8 percent smaller catalog than the previous year, while average soared a record 62.2 percent and median price rose 41.2 percent.

Royal Delta, of course, was a great racemare, who went on to compile a Hall of Fame-quality career, winning 12 of 22 career starts, two Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classics, four additional Grade 1 races, and earning $4,811,126. Mares of that quality rarely appear in the auction ring at either Keeneland or Fasig-Tipton.

It is unlikely that this year’s Keeneland or Fasig-Tipton catalogs include a Royal Delta. Fasig-Tipton’s includes probable Breeders’ Cup runners Hard Not to Like, La Verdad, Peace and War, Photo Call, Stephanie’s Kitten, Sweet Whiskey, Tepin, and Watsdachances. And it is always possible that there will be a late entry or two to one or both of the sales out of the Breeders’ Cup races.

It is hard, though, to imagine that any of those racemares, despite their obvious high quality, will match or exceed Royal Delta’s price. In addition to a market that was rebounding from the sharp declines from 2008 through 2010, Royal Delta was part of the dispersal of the late Prince Khaled bin Saud’s Chanteclair Farm. The cachet of the dispersal had a positive effect on Royal Delta’s price and the price of other horses in the dispersal and the sale as a whole.

Indeed, any positive effect of the Breeders’ Cup on the sales as a whole is bound to be limited.

“I think the top of the market, the top 10 percent to 20 percent, will be enthusiastic, but I don’t think there’s any effect on the rest of the market,” Browning said.

Fasig-Tipton November has become a hot market for stakes-winning racemares fresh off the racetrack in recent years, and that reputation is likely to be reinforced again on Nov. 1. The first 73 hip numbers in the sale are assigned to weanlings, but the very first broodmare in the sale is 2014 Grade 2 Inside Information Stakes winner Heart Stealer, by Speightstown, in foal to Medaglia d’Oro. That is the first of 69 stakes winners scheduled to be offered before the final gavel falls more than 100 hips later.

For all of the boutique glitter of the Fasig-Tipton sale, though, Keeneland is hardly lacking in star attractions, and this year’s sale looks stronger than in recent years. Hip No. 1 is 2013 Grade 3 Schuylerville Stakes winner Bahnah, and over the first two days of Book 1 there are more than 100 stakes-winning fillies or mares, headed by 2014 champion 2-year-old filly Take Charge Brandi, by Giant’s Causeway, who is sure to attract bidders with the deepest pockets on the planet, and maybe even entice them to Royal Delta levels.

Fasig-Tipton’s weanling offerings are likely to be headed by half-siblings to Grade 1 winners Ice Box, Dearest Trickski, The Big Beast, Constitution, and Willy Beamin. Keeneland’s much larger selection of weanlings is always the happy hunting ground for weanling-to-yearling pinhookers, but resellers may find it difficult to buy a weanling by War Front out of Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, already dam of champion Will Take Charge and Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy, or half-siblings to Creative Cause, Tell a Kelly, Shackleford, Executiveprivilege, Hoppertunity, Honor Code, Mrs. Lindsay, and Dame Dorothy, among others.

The November sales are also the first Kentucky venue for evaluating the progeny of young sires, and this year’s first-croppers will be headed by Kentucky Derby winner and champion 3-year-old male Animal Kingdom, champion European older horse Declaration of War, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Flat Out, Wood Memorial winner Gemologist, Donn Handicap winner Graydar, Kentucky Derby winner Orb, champion 2-year-old male Shanghai Bobby, and CashCall Futurity winner Violence.

Following on the heels of a vibrant yearling market and with the Breeders’ Cup in town for the first time, the November sales scene in Lexington is likely to be a hot spot.