Keeneland's January Horses of All Ages Sale concluded Friday with returns bearing out market trends seen at Thoroughbred auctions worldwide: increasing buyer selectivity and demand for top-quality horses.
Gross sales for the five-day auction, held Jan. 9-13, were $28,785,500, down 18.83 percent from last year's $35,463,000 for the five-day sale. The average of $29,954 decreased 12.16 percent from $34,099 in 2016. The median of $10,500 dipped 4.55 percent when compared to last year's $11,000. This year, 961 horses were sold versus 1,040 last year.
The January Sale, which features broodmares, broodmare prospects, yearlings, horses of racing age, stallions and stallion prospects, was punctuated by several high-priced lots during the Book 1 portion of the auction, led by the sale of Siren Serenade, in foal to leading sire Tapit, for $1,025,000 and Grade 3 winner Delightful Joy for $700,000.
“Buyers are tightly focused on quality over quantity. No matter how deep the buying bench, you have to have an exceptional horse to get top dollar,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “The January Sale is traditionally a catchall sale, and this year, unlike some previous years, it was not enhanced by a dispersal. For various reasons, there were a large number of outs leading into and during the sale that further compromised the catalog. On the positive side, there were bright spots – such as young, solid-bred mares from active families and mares covered by precocious young sires – that exceeded expectations in many cases. Buyers were prepared to spend the money required for those horses perceived to be commercially viable.
“The market at this sale and others around the world is very polarized,” Elliston said. “It's strong at the top and in the middle but there is little support for horses in the lower tier of the market. That's the environment we are operating in today. Breeders need to take note moving forward.”
John Henry Mulholland, whose family's Mulholland Springs sold 18 horses for $1,537,200 to rank third on the leading consignor list, concurred.
“We all have to adjust to the market we live in and have reasonable expectations,” he said. “You either have everything (buyers) are looking for or you don't. There's no in-between anymore. If you have a yearling by a hot sire with clean X-rays or a mare in foal to something popular, you're going to get paid. If you miss that bar ever so slightly, you won't.”
“It is a typical January sale. When you bring a good offering, it brings good money,” Four Star Sales Managing Partner Kerry Cauthen said.
Major American interests as well as those from South America, Japan and Europe were among the January Sale's leading buyers. The Solari family's Don Alberto Corporation, based in Chile with operations in Central Kentucky, took home the sale-topping Siren Serenade, dam of 2015 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) runner-up Luminance. She was consigned by Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, agent.
Chilean businessman Oussama Aboughazale, who races as Sumaya Stable and recently purchased a farm in Central Kentucky, ranked as top buyer by gross, spending $2,251,000 for 11 horses. In the name of his International Equities Holding, Aboughazale bought the sale's second- and third highest-priced horses, paying $700,000 for 2015 Monmouth Oaks (G3) winner Delightful Joy, by Tapit, offered as a broodmare prospect by Denali Stud, agent; and $575,000 for Joyfully, in foal to 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah and consigned by Paramount Sales, agent.
Aboughazale also bought mares to send to his multiple graded stakes winner and newly retired stallion Protonico. He was among a number of breeders who invested in broodmares at the January Sale in support of stallions entering stud in 2017. Others included Albaugh Family Stables, buying mares for Grade 3 winner Not This Time; Erich Brehm for his Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) winner, Texas Red; Keith Desormeaux, trainer of Texas Red and Preakness (G1) winner Exaggerator; Anchor Down Mares for graded stakes winner Anchor Down; Hill 'n' Dale Bloodstock for multiple Grade/Group 1 winner Flintshire (GB); and the Pons family's Country Life Farm for multiple stakes winner Mosler.
A colt by Uncle Mo commanded top price for a yearling at the January Sale, selling for $385,000 to Ellen M. Charles' Hillwood Stable of Maryland. Warrendale Sales, agent, consigned the colt, who is a half-brother to stakes winner Away We Go.
“Usually, the weather doesn't affect the January Sale, but I think maybe it affected this one a little bit,” Martha Jane Mulholland of Mulholland Springs said. “We had three buyers who were coming in from New York, California and North Carolina. The (bad) weather hit on both coasts, and they couldn't get here for Book 1 and opted not to come. I think our farm knows of $500,000 that didn't show up for this sale, and I'm assuming some of the larger farms know of even more money.”
The January Sale closes Keeneland's sales year, which began with last fall's September Yearling Sale followed by the November Breeding Stock Sale. Those sales, which saw participation from major U.S. and foreign buyers, produced solid results and three of the world's top auction prices in 2016. At the November Sale, 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (G1) winner Unrivaled Belle, in foal to Tapit, sold for $3.8 million to the be most expensive horse sold at public auction last year, while Group 2 winner Secret Gesture (GB), in foal to War Front, brought $3.5 million. In September, a Scat Daddy colt sold for $3 million to be the highest-priced yearling sold at public auction in North America last year.
During Friday's final session, Keeneland sold 171 horses for $1,306,400, down 27.02 percent from $1,790,100 grossed for 197 horses in 2016. The session average decreased 15.92 percent, from 9,087 to $7,640, while median of $5,000 remained unchanged from last year.
Singsong, a 4-year-old filly by Unbridled's Song offered as a broodmare prospect, brought the day's top price of $52,000 from Machmer Hall. Consigned by Buck Pond Farm, agent, Singsong is out of the stakes-winning Forest Camp mare Church Camp.
For the fourth consecutive year and the 15th time since 2001, Taylor Made Sales Agency was the January Sale's leading consignor. Taylor Made sold 100 horses for a total of $4,740,800.
Keeneland's next auction is the September Yearling Sale, to be held Sept. 11-24.
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