11/02/2016 10:56AM

Weanlings grow in popularity at Keeneland November sale

Keeneland Photo
Champion Take Charge Brandi sold for $6 million at the 2015 Keeneland November sale to be the most expensive mare in North America last year - and a weanling from her family brought a North American-record $3.2 million.

In a business where a single decision can take years to come to fruition, the industry’s vision snaps quickly from present to future over the course of a weekend when horsemen move on from the Breeders’ Cup to the November mixed-sale season.

Building to that future could come in the form of a weanling with a once-in-a-lifetime page or from a broodmare prospect bought with the goal of creating special pages for generations to come.

This year’s edition of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale offers plenty of both over its 13-day stand, and features an especially large number of racing-age offerings with the dispersal of Conquest Stables.

The auction will take place Nov. 8-20 in Lexington, Ky. The first two sessions that make up Book 1 will begin at 11 a.m. Eastern, while the remaining sessions of Books 2-7 will start at 10 a.m.

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The 4,763 entries in this year’s catalog make it the largest edition of the November sale since 2008. It marks a 6 percent increase in offerings from last year’s renewal, which cataloged 4,476.

The November sale has become an increasingly popular destination for trade of elite weanlings. This is best evidenced by the North American record price for a weanling at public auction being surpassed at each of the past two editions of the Keeneland November sale.

Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, said he has noticed a growing number of horses have recently been selling at the November sale as weanlings rather than at the bellwether September yearling sale.

“Our industry is famous for its cycles,” he said. “We have gone through cycles in the past where end-users are as happy to buy them as foals as they are to buy them as yearlings and raise them in their own way.

“When these horses come on the market, the end-user understands if he or she doesn’t buy it, they won’t be there in September. This will be your one shot at buying these horses, and they all realize that. When you see these high-quality foals that are brought to the market, those high-end yearling buyers take note of that, and they’re here to buy.”

One reason for the rising stock of weanlings at the November sale could be a change in philosophy toward how the young horses are prepped for auction.

Mark Taylor of consignor Taylor Made Sales Agency said his operation, like many others, has taken a more natural approach to bringing up its sales weanlings, raising them in a fashion closer to the foals headed to the racetrack without a detour through the auction block.

“You’d have these hot-housed-looking horses,” he said about the old methods. “If they didn’t get sold, you’ve basically screwed up the horse’s growth pattern, and you’ve got a flawed product to take home. The buyers, in a lot of cases, didn’t have a lot of good luck with them. I think people have learned a more natural way. At least we have.

“We prep our horses totally different now. They get groomed a little bit more, we might leave them in a few more hours a day, but they still go out at night. They haven’t had blankets on yet, they’re developing bone, and doing all that stuff.”

That shift, Taylor speculated, has increased buyer confidence in the weanling market, and that confidence has been rewarded with the likes of champion Nyquist selling as a weanling.

“I think the horsemanship has come a long way,” Taylor said. “We’re going to polish them up and pull their mane, but let’s raise them like a racehorse and take them over there. People respond to that. They don’t care about having them slick as an eel when you walk in there. They like to see a nice, natural, and healthy coat, good bone, and good foot.”

As usual, the catalog also is packed with off-the-track racing and broodmare prospects, as well as notable broodmares already in service.

Among the notable racing/broodmare prospects scheduled to go through the ring are champion and Breeders’ Cup Distaff contender Stellar Wind, Canadian Horse of the Year Lexie Lou, and Grade/Group 1 winners Lady Eli, Celestine, Paola Queen, and Energia Fribby.

High-profile broodmares cataloged for the Keeneland November sale include Classic Strike (dam of Union Strike), Ithinkisawapudycat (dam of Sweet Loretta), My Tina (dam of Midnight Storm), and Grade 1 winners Crisp (in foal to American Pharoah), My Conquestadory and Peace and War (both in foal to Tapit), among others.

One of the auction’s highlights will be the dispersal of Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell’s Conquest Stables, which comprises a diverse offering of 111 horses, from weanlings and broodmares to a large group of horses of racing age.

Last year’s November sale saw 2,575 horses sold for $218,959,400, up 6 percent from the 2014 renewal. The average sale price rose 4 percent to $85,033, while the median fell 14 percent to $30,000.

Champion Take Charge Brandi topped last year’s auction, going to John G. Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms for $6 million. The hammer price made the 3-year-old daughter of Giant’s Causeway the most expensive horse to change hands through the Keeneland November ring since 2007.

For the second straight year, a North American record sale price for a weanling was achieved, with a War Front filly out of Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady selling to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm for $3.2 million. The filly was later named Lady Take Charge.

That price surpassed the previous record, set in 2014, when Bridlewood Farm went to $3 million for a Tapit filly later named Serena’s Cat.