As the biggest North American marketplace for the youngest Thoroughbreds and for the producers of generations to come, the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale was poised to be a key referendum on the future of the industry in the eyes and pocketbooks of its own members during a most unstable time.
If confidence in the long-term health of Thoroughbred racing in North America were perceived to be in jeopardy by its participants, making investments that could take years to recoup – such as a young broodmare prospect – might look less appealing, and having multiple parties with the same idea could shift the economic tide.
Voting with their dollars, the global Thoroughbred industry revealed a steady hand, posting results in near-lockstep to that of 2018, a time before crisis seemingly beckoned at every turn.
At the close of 12 sessions of trade, a total of 2,667 horses changed hands at this year's Keeneland November sale for revenues of $200,139,400. That marked a 1 percent gain from the 2018 renewal, also 12 days long, when 2,644 horses brought $197,851,300.
The average sale price finished 0.2 percent ahead of the previous year, growing to $75,043 from $74,830. This year's median finished unchanged at $25,000.
“We're satisfied with the outcomes,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland's vice president of racing and sales. “We really spent a lot of time pushing hard up front with our Book 1. We're very satisfied with the 14.5-15 percent increase in the gross in Book 1, and I think that set the stage for solid trade throughout by domestic interests and foreign interests.”
The November sale's returns were in tune with Keeneland's September Yearling Sale, which also posted results similar to the previous year. No matter what else changes around it, the mantra of “quality sells” remains ever-unchanged.
“It's the same old story every sale – quality's going through the roof and the mid-level to lesser horses are harder to move,” said Mike Recio of consignor South Point Sales. “The middle of the week was tougher to move some of those horses, but there was really good action in the last couple of books to get some of these lesser horses moved. I think we're going to see some of the babies out of these mares selling for a lot of money next year.”
Much of that weight in the later books was carried by international interests, both from emerging racing countries and those looking to expand their base. Notably, the ever-growing horses of racing age portion of the auction, held in the middle of its second week, was dominated by buyers from Saudi Arabia, looking for prospects in the near and distance future for the lucrative Saudi Cup card.
Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales, said the foreign buoyancy in the later books – not to mention the high-level buyers who help drive the opening sessions – are the result of hard work and many days on the road.
“We've seen a change in the international marketplace,” Russell said. “If you notice, there have been fewer South American buyers, which is pure economics. Their countries have not been doing well economically, so we're seeing less of them and more from Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Korea's been a very strong supporter yet again. These are different markets that we go to on a regular basis and establish relationships, and they reap benefits. People enjoy when we make an effort to go see them on their own home turf, instead of just waiting on them to come see us. They appreciate that, and they reward us by coming back and buying here.”
While broodmares held the top spots on the board as they always do, people on the grounds were especially bullish on the prospects of buying and selling weanlings.
End-users could be seen in the upper-end of the weanling market, but weanling-to-yearling pinhook buyers were large economic drivers in that space. Consignor James Keogh said part of the reason for this shift was that end-users are pairing up with greater frequency.
“There were several large syndicates formed, and the pool of buyers was reduced as a result of that, and that definitely impacted the marketplace,” Keogn said. “I think there were some good foals that probably fell through the cracks, and I think that'll be reflected in next year's yearling market when they come back.”
Notable to this year's sale was its start date, which joined the Fasig-Tipton November sale in pushing back by a day to allow more time for travel, rest, and inspection following the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita.
The decision was lauded by bloodstock participants on both side of the auction ring's ropes.
“The sale was very, very strong,” said bloodstock agent Mike Ryan. “People had time to work it. They weren't rushed, people could do it at their own pace. I think it was a great move. Hopefully it'll stay that way.”
Champion Take Charge Brandi Tops Sale At $3.2 Million
Eclipse Award winner Take Charge Brandi finished atop the sale with a final bid of $3.2 million during the auction's opening session, but life for the champion after the sale will look a lot like life before she got on the trailer to leave the farm.
The 7-year-old Giant's Causeway mare was put through the ring as Hip 111 to dissolve a partnership between John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farms and Elevage, an entity led by Glen Hill Farm's Craig Bernick. At the fall of the hammer, the tickets for both Take Charge Brandi and her $600,000 weanling Tapit colt went to Sikura's chair.
“I owned half of the mare, and there was a change in the partnership strategy where we were initially going to be a stallion investment company, which has been a big part of our portfolio,” Sikura said, “but then we started to buy some mares and some of the partners thought that we should be more direct and concentrate our assets as we'd originally planned. They wanted to sell all of the mares here at the sale.”
The Elevage dispersal included 14 entries at the Keeneland November sale, all in the select Book 1, including notable mares Take Charge Brandi, Mei Ling, Notting Hill, Aurelia's Belle, Callback, Cassatt, Drifting Cube, and Dynaslew. Six weanlings out of those mares were also cataloged in this year's sale.
In total, the dispersal grossed $11.7 million. Sikura bought four of the horses – two mares and two weanlings – while Bernick's Glen Hill Farm secured two weanlings and the mare Notting Hill.
“I wasn't supportive of the idea, as far as the best time to sell her, because she's had a couple foals, and how good is the half-baked cake going to taste? It's not ready yet,” Sikura said of Take Charge Brandi. “But, I understood and agreed with the philosophy of sticking to our core purpose. Me and Craig have a great relationship, and there's no animosity whatsoever. He's bid and bought some, I've bid and bought some, we've been outbid on others, but the best way to determine real market value is to bring them to the market where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged by the other, and offer them in front of the world, and that's what we've done. Those are mares that I've hand-picked, and I think one of those mares are going to be an important mare.”
Take Charge Brandi was offered in-foal to 2018 Triple Crown winner and Horse of the Year Justify, making her a part of the champion's first book of mares.
Sikura also bought out his partners on Take Charge Brandi's weanling Tapit colt, offered as Hip 112, for $600,000.
Best Lands Weanling Curlin Filly In Book 2 For Sale-Topping $775,000
In an auction that can be quite top-heavy, the mantle for the most expensive weanling of the Keeneland November sale was unexpectedly usurped on the second day of Book 2, when Larry Best of OXO Equine bought a Curlin filly for $775,000.
Best had a knack for making his presence known during this year's fall sale season, having landed Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Blue Prize for $5 million to top the Fasig-Tipton November Sale earlier in the season's first week.
Best secured the bid on Hip 1039 over the phone, with Taylor Made Farm's Frank Taylor handling the honors when the ticket came to his seat.
“He'd looked at her, and I just bid on her, but she was a nice filly,” Taylor said. “We loved her. She had a great walk on her. She's everything we wanted.”
Bred in Kentucky by Peter Redekop, the chestnut filly is out of the unplaced Giant's Causeway mare Fly to the Stars, whose six foals to race are all winners, including Grade 3 winner The Tabulator and stakes-placed Star Via Strada. Grade 1 winner Bellamy Road is in her extended family, as well as Grade 3 winners Out of Place, Lead Kindly Light, and Calibrachoa.
Indian Creek handled the filly, as agent, and the transaction was was a monumental surprise for consignor Shack Parrish.
“She's always been very nice, very forward,” Parrish said. “Up here, she's been an angel. She showed in the rain and all yesterday and it didn't affect her. It was a little more than we expected, but I won't complain at all. It was huge for us and the team at home.”
Taylor Made On Top Once Again
For the sixteenth time since 2000, Taylor Made Sales Agency finished as the leading consignor of the Keeneland November sale by gross, with 292 horses sold for a combined $27,511,100. The most expensive offering to emerge from the Taylor Made shedrow this year was Hip 274H, Gloryzapper, a Grade 3-winning Ghostzapper mare, offered in-foal to Tapit, who sold to Summer Wind Equine for $1.5 million.
Hill 'n' Dale at Xalapa was the sale's top buyer, with 10 purchases totaling $5,351,000, led by the buying of the sale-topper.
The allure of a Triple Crown victory remained apparent with regards to the purchase of pregnant mares. Justify, who took the elusive prize in 2018, was the sale's top covering sire by gross with his first book of mares, moving 15 mares for $11,195,000.
Hill 'n' Dale's Curlin was the second-leading covering sire by gross, with six horses bring $6.01 million. He was the auction's top covering sire by average, at $1,001,667.
Ashford Stud's Classic Empire was the leading first-crop sire of weanlings by gross, with 18 youngsters sold for $2,272,000. Arrogate, a resident of Juddmonte Farms, led the rookie class of weanling sires by average, with three foals averaging $315,000.
To view the auction's full results, click here.
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