Gross down 12 per cent year-on-year as January Sale concludes
Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales said trade at the lower end was tough
Keeneland's January Horses of All Ages Sale ended on Friday with five days of solid commerce that produced numbers predictably below last year, when the auction was topped by champion Abel Tasman's $5 million price tag.
From 1,856 horses catalogued - up 18 per cent from last year - Keeneland reported 1,106 horses sold for gross receipts of $42,480,500, an average price of $38,409 and a $14,000 median. The 290 horses that went unsold reflected an RNA rate of 21 per cent.
The gross was down 12 per cent from last year's $48,280,100 total, with the average declining 24 per cent and the median down by 30 per cent.
The final session - with no comparable session during the last year's four-day sale - was topped by Cullum Road (hip 1809), a multiple Graded-placed son of Quality Road purchased by Daniel Kessler of KC Garrett Farm for $150,000 from agent Bluewater Sales.
The five-year-old gelding most recently raced for Three Diamonds Farm and has earned $378,608 with four wins and eight placings in 22 starts.
With no major dispersal or breakout offering of the calibre of Abel Tasman, the January Sale resulted in solid horse-trading among a mostly domestic buyer base bolstered by an active group of foreign buyers, with Keeneland reporting that there were buyers from 18 countries.
If the $5m paid for last year's sale-topper was not included, this year's venue would represent a market in line with last year that is stable and continues to reward quality, according to Keeneland officials.
"If you take out Abel Tasman, who represented more than ten per cent of our gross last year, the numbers this year are relatively similar," said Keeneland vice president of racing and sales Bob Elliston.
"The underpinnings of that are very similar in that if you've a nice mare, folks are going to pay good money for that nice mare. If you have a nice short yearling that is a good-looking horse by a precocious young sire, they are going to pay good money for that.
"If you can't check all the boxes, it gets a little more difficult. I think that speaks to the sales environment in this day and age, generally, but it continues here in January. We're very pleased with a solid January Sale compared to last year. It would've been nice to have an Abel Tasman, but those things are not assured when you open up the entry box for this sale."
Consignor said a lot of breeders sold in-foal mares at prices that don't even meet the stud fee paid for the mating.
"This has been a really good market on the top end, which is where everything is going," McDonald said. "It's scary. I think the weakness in the market is with these mid- to lower-level mares. You can't even get your stud fee back out of these mares when they sell."
With so much emphasis on quality, McDonald said breeders need to focus on culling their broodmare bands to lower their numbers and improve their quality, which may mean taking some short-term losses.
"The way you ramp it up is close your eyes and take your licks while they're in the ring," he said.
Agent Jim Schenck, representing a new client he declined to name, bought the two highest-priced horses at the sale, headed by Enaya Alrabb (795D), a four-year-old Uncle Mo filly bought for $640,000.
Bred in Kentucky by Tony Holmes and Dr and Mrs Walter Zent, the filly who ran second in the Grade 1 Starlet Stakes at two is out of the Graded-placed Rhythm mare Lotta Rhythm and is a half-sister to Graded-placed winner Hattaash.
"She was a great racehorse, so she deserved to bring it," Paramount's Pat Costello said. "If you bring the goods, you get well paid; even better paid than you thought. But if you fall below the barrier, it's tough getting it done."
Schenck went to $560,000 to secure the second-highest-priced horse, the War Front filly Confidently consigned as hip 595 by Glen Hill Farm. Bred in Kentucky by Playa Maya Syndicate out of the Arch mare Playa Maya, the filly is a half-sister to champion and popular stallion Uncle Mo.
Glen Hill, returning to the sale as a consignor for the first time in over a decade, was also responsible for the third-highest price of the sale when Inflamed (795E) was purchased by Shadai Farm for $525,000. A daughter of Unusual Heat, the mare is the dam of Grade 1 Hollywood Derby winner Mo Forza, who is an Eclipse Award finalist in the category of male turf horse.
Short yearlings were in demand as many traditional buyers of weanlings in the fall mixed sales still had not filled their quotas, leading them to shop the January Sale.
An Uncle Mo colt (830) bought by Gabriel Duignan's Springhouse Farm for $400,000 topped the category when offered by Taylor Made Sales Agency. He was bred in Kentucky by Mike Abraham and is out of the stakes-winning Big Brown mare Red Sashay, who is a half-sister to Group 3 Jebel Ali Mile winner Shamaal Nibras and Grade 2-placed stakes winner New Edition.
"The foal market is phenomenal," said Keeneland director of sales operations Geoffrey Russell. "We got some horses in late during the November Sale for January because of the strength of the November Sale, because of the demand, that middle to top, end-users as well as pinhookers fighting. The pinhookers told us after November they hadn't filled their quotas yet."
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