The tough thing about selling a record-tying $5-million horse at an auction normally populated by blue-collar offerings is it can make for a tough act to follow. Putting that into consideration, the 2020 edition of the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale did a respectable job holding its own.
Last year's edition featured the sale of champion Abel Tasman, whose $5-million transaction provided a game-changing outlier for this year's renewal to chase in the gross and average columns, without the benefit of its own once-in-a-generation offering or a dispersal with which to counter.
That led to a 12 percent decline in gross, with 1,106 horses changing hands this year for revenues of $42,480,500. Last year's auction finished with 951 horses sold for $48,280,100.
Removing the $5 million put on the board by Abel Tasman last year paints a more competitive picture of this year's sale, taking the decline down to 2 percent with a 2019 gross of $43,280,100.
“To me, you take one horse out from 2019, and 2020 looks remarkably like '19,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland's vice president of racing and sale. “You take Abel Tasman out, she was the $5-million purchase which generated an excess of 10 percent of our total gross last year, and the numbers are going to be relatively similar.
“I think the underpinnings of that are very similar, and that is, you've got a nice mare, people are gonna pay good money for that nice mare,” he continued. “You've got a nice short yearling, a good looking horse with a precocious young sire, they're gonna pay good money for that. If you can't check all the boxes, it's a little more difficult, and I think that speaks to the sales environment in this day and age. Generally, we're very pleased with a solid January. It would have been nice to have an Abel Tasman, it would have been nice to have a dispersal, but those things are not assured when you open the entry box for these sales.”
The average sale price finished with a 24 percent decline – also affected on the front end by Abel Tasman – going to $38,409 from $50,768.
The median sale price, which is less swayed by a single horse, kept close to last year's returns, but was ultimately weighed down by a larger catalog filling up the lower end of the market. This year's sale featured five days of trade compared with last year's four sessions. That led to a 30 percent decline in the median, finishing this year at $14,000 after landing at $20,000 in 2019.
The buyback rate finished at 21 percent compared with 19 percent the previous year.
“We're just a couple points off the clearance rate here,” Elliston said. “We had more offerings, and if you look at the RNA rate, it's not dissimilar to last year. That speaks to still getting horses sold, and the averages are being maintained. I don't see a precipitous dropoff in polarization, but there's no question it's there, it's a continuation of what has been there.”
That polarization was on the mind of Carrie Brogden of consignor Select Sales and breeding operation Machmer Hall at the end of the January sale.
As the marketplace becomes more discerning, even in the less lofty sales, the real estate for the middle market becomes smaller. Brogden speculated that the relatively steady status of the marketplace could be hard to sustain without some serious corrections to bring those mid-level stallions and markets back to a higher standing.
“We've seen the polarization in the markets with the 2-year-olds forever, and that's a performance-based market,” Brogden said. “Now we're really seeing it here, where all the money is going to what's perceived as the above-average, and no money for the below-average.
“I think our supply is dropping as fast as out demand, so that's why I think these markets are still stable,” she continued. “The number of mares bred in 2019 was down 3.5 percent, and then in November, we watched hundreds of pregnant mares go to Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, England, South America. I think we could stabilize and help our market out with stud book caps. Everyone's going to the proven and the unproven (first-book stallions). I used to hear that some, but now I hear it non-stop.”
Enaya Alrabb Tops Sale At $640,000
The auction's top offering was the Grade 1-placed broodmare prospect Enaya Alrabb, who sold to James Schenck, agent, as Hip 795D for $640,000 during the supplemental portion of Tuesday's second session.
The 4-year-old Uncle Mo filly shares a second dam with 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, joining at the Cure the Blues mare Kim's Blues. Enaya Alrabb is out of the Grade 2-placed stakes-winning Rhythm mare Lotta Rhythm, who is herself a half-sister to Lotta Kim, a Grade 2-placed runner and dam of Rachel Alexandra. This also puts Rachel Alexandra's Grade 1-winning daughter Rachel's Valentina on the session-topper's page.
“That was on the top end (pricewise) but she was lovely, she didn't turn a hair and she was a great racehorse,” said Pat Costello of consignor Paramount Sales. “We were delighted, the owners are delighted. If you bring the goods here, you get well paid, maybe even better paid than you thought. But if you fall below the barrier, it's tough getting it done.”
Enaya Alrabb broke her maiden as a juvenile, then earned a runner-up finish in the G1 Starlet Stakes. She came back at age three to finish second in the G2 Starlet Stakes.
Schenck, acting as agent for an unnamed client, was the sale's leading buyer with three purchases totaling $1.48 million.
Book 2 Colt By Uncle Mo Tops Newly-Turned Yearlings At $400,000
The January Sale found a bit of a second wind during the first session of Book 2 on Wednesday, with activity on the grounds feeling more vibrant than even the opening session. The first session of Book 2 also produced the auction's overall most expensive newly-turned yearling, when Springhouse Farm bought an Uncle Mo colt for $400,000.
The second foal out of stakes winner Red Sashay, by Big Brown, Hip 830 is from the family of Grade/Group 2 winners Halory Hunter, Van Nistelrooy, International Star and Seahenge.
“He's a beautiful foal, to me, the nicest foal on the grounds,” said Springhouse Farm's Gabriel Duignan. “Uncle Mo, his sire, couldn't be any hotter. It's a lot of money, but he's a great horse.”
Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the colt, as agent.
The Taylor Made operation finished as Keeneland January's leading consignor by gross for the 18th time since 2000, moving 138 horses over the five-day auction for $5,617,400. The $400,000 Uncle Mo colt was the consignment's most expensive offering of the sale.
Hill 'n' Dale Farms' Curlin finished the sale as the leading covering sire by gross, with two pregnant mares bringing a combined $640,000.
Among the newly-turned yearlings, Ashford Stud's Practical Joke was the leading first-crop stallion by gross, with 13 offerings bringing $1,215,000. Gun Runner of Three Chimneys led the first-crop stallions by average yearling sale price, with five horses averaging $166,400.
On Friday, K.C. Garrett Farm paid the session-topping price of $150,000 for Cullum Road, a 5-year-old, Grade 3-placed gelding by Quality Road. Consigned by Bluewater Sales, agent, Cullum Road is out of the stakes-winning Indian Charlie mare R Charlie's Angel.
A total of 151 horses sold during the final session for $1,316,600, for an average of $8,719 and a median of $4,200.
To view the sale's full results, click here.
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