01/09/2015 12:58PM

Sparkman: Variations on a January theme

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Breeding stock sales by their nature are subject to considerably more statistical variation than yearling or weanling sales. That variation from year to year often has nothing to do with the state of the Thoroughbred market.

While the size and quality of the annual crop of foals that become yearlings and 2-year-olds generally do not vary dramatically from year to year, the quality and even quantity of horses consigned to breeding stock sales do. Dispersals, like that of the late Edward P. Evans’s Spring Hill Farm at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, in particular can have a significant effect on the results of mixed sales. Total proceeds at that 2011 sale jumped 41.5 percent, from $147,392,900 to $208,511,200, almost entirely due to the $55,820,000 garnered by the Evans dispersal and the $26,959,000 brought by the smaller Chanteclair Farm dispersal that included Royal Delta, while average price soared 62 percent from $50,322 to $81,641 and median rose 41 percent from $17,000 to $24,000.

Since it is usually only a third to half the size of the November auction, Keeneland’s January horses of all ages sale, which begins Monday in Lexington, Ky., and runs through Thursday, is even more susceptible to the random factors that have little or nothing to do with the state of the market. Given the smaller sample size, it does not take very many high-priced horses to affect the final figures.

If the results of the 2014 Keeneland November and Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sales are any indication – and they usually are – this year’s Keeneland January sale could turn in some highly positive final numbers. The top-priced horse of the Keeneland November sale was Aloof, a group stakes-winning mare by the world’s leading sire, Galileo, in foal to the ultra-hot American sire War Front, purchased for $3.9 million by Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm. Naples Bay, the second-highest-priced mare at $3.6 million, also was in foal to War Front, while Peace Preserver, the seventh-highest-priced mare, represented the opposite combination, a War Front mare in foal to Galileo; Precious Stone at No. 8 was another Galileo mare in foal to War Front.

The only mare cataloged at Fasig-Tipton November representing the suddenly magical Galileo-War Front combination was Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency’s Twirl, by Galileo, a stakes-winning full sister to the Irish classic winner and highweight Misty For Me in foal to War Front. Twirl was expected to be among the highest-priced mares sold at Fasig-Tipton November but was withdrawn from the sale because of a minor injury.

Twirl is scheduled to step into the auction ring as Hip No. 147 on the first day of the January sale and is almost certain to contend for top-price honors at the four-day sale. Her principal competition may well be another mare with very similar credentials. Four Star Sales, agent, has consigned Hip No. 537 on the sale’s second day, the Group 2-winning Up, by Galileo, a half-sister to the Group 1 winner and sire Dutch Art, by Medicean, also in foal to War Front.

Twirl’s dam, Butterfly Cove, by Storm Cat, was unraced, but she is a full sister to the group stakes winner Kamarinskaya, and a half-sister to the unbeaten champion European 2-year-old Fasliyev, by Nureyev, from the terrific American family that includes the Grade 1 winners and Kentucky Derby runners-up Desert Wine and Menifee. Up’s second dam, Palacegate Episode, by Drumalis, was a German highweight and a full or half-sister to two other stakes winners from a top European family, so the contest for highest price between those two may come down to conformation.

Twirl and Up are not the only candidates for seven-figure prices this January, and since the top price at the 2014 January sale was $775,000 for Ponche de Leona, the dam of 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man, by Macho Uno, if those two and/or one or two other mares exceed the $1 million mark, overall figures at the 2015 sale are all but certain to climb.

This is not to say that the numbers in January last year at Keeneland were bad. In fact, the $20,000 median was a record for the sale, while average price dipped only 2 percent to $39,947, while total proceeds declined 9 percent to $41,025,700. Predictably, the January record average of $49,183 was established in 2000, when the beautifully bred young Grade 3-winning mare Mackie, a half-sister to six stakes winners out of Broodmare of the Year Glowing Tribute, from the best family in the American Stud Book, sold for a January record $5 million.

Mackie, by Summer Squall, was carrying the stakes-placed winner Beaucette, by Mr. Prospector, at the time of sale, and her then-yearling Mr. Mellon, by Red Ransom, won the Grade 2 Arlington Classic in 2002. In 2001, Mackie produced the eventual multiple stakes winner Seeking the Best, by Seeking the Gold, an earner of $1.8 million in Japan.

Of course, that is why breeders come to Keeneland January and are willing to pay seven-figure prices for mares with the right combination of conformation, race record, pedigree, and covering sire. Such mares are rare at any sale, and gems of that quality generally are even rarer at Keeneland January.

The first Keeneland January sale in 1956 was held primarily as a vehicle for the dispersal of the majority of the breeding stock of the late William S. Woodward Sr., which had been purchased by Mildred Woolwine. Segula, the dam of the 1955 Horse of the Year Nashua, topped the sale at $126,000, then a record auction price for a broodmare. Segula was carrying Nashua’s full sister, Stavroula, who never won for her owner-breeder, Stavros Niarchos, but produced multiple group winner Wittgenstein, by Roi Dagobert.

Stavroula also is a tail-female ancestress of the 1996 Preakness winner Louis Quatorze, by Sovereign Dancer, the Grade 1 winner and recently deceased Florida-based sire Wildcat Heir, by Forest Wildcat, and the gritty campaigner Awesome Gem, by Awesome Again, among many others.

In its early years, the Keene-land January sale was known as a “tax sale.” Breeders needing to pay more taxes on income the previous year than expected consigned horses to the sale in order to raise cash. That notion has long been supplanted in the much larger Thoroughbred market that has evolved over the nearly 60 years since the sale’s inception. Now, breeders use the sale for more varied purposes, and as in the case of Twirl, it serves as an alternate market for horses that miss the November market or those that fail to meet their reserves but still need to be sold.

With the global Thoroughbred market thriving and the American economy in its best shape since the global economic meltdown of 2008, there is every reason to think that the January 2015 sale will more than hold its own with recent editions. With mares like Twirl and Up as putative stars, things are looking up in January at Keeneland.