In addition to being a top-to-bottom test of the Thoroughbred market's stability, the Keeneland September Yearling Sale also provides a solid snapshot of which stallions' stocks are going up and whose are plummeting.
Running parallel to his ascension on the racetrack, the sire who took the biggest step forward at this year's September sale was Lane's End resident Twirling Candy, who more than doubled his average sale price from the previous year's renewal.
The 12-year-old son of Candy Ride saw the greatest year-to-year spike in average sale price by percentage among stallions who had 10 or more yearlings sell at each of the September sale's past two renewals. His 2019 average of $105,194 from 36 horses sold marked a 151.91 percent increase from 2018, when his 44 yearlings sold averaged $41,759.
Twirling Candy was the only stallion with 10 or more yearlings sold in both 2018 and 2019 to double his average sale price in that span of time. His most expensive offering of the 2018 September sale changed hands for $260,000, and he had four yearlings eclipse that figure in 2019.
Leading the way was Hip 414, a colt out of the stakes-winning Silver Ghost mare Ghost Dancing who sold to Cromwell Bloodstock for $950,000. When the hammer fell, the half-brother to Grade 1 winners Roadster and Ascend became the most expensive Twirling Candy yearling ever sold at public auction.
Twirling Candy also had Hip 1833, a colt out of the winning Hennessy mare Stockings, go to Jay Em Ess Stable for $350,000 to become the second-highest-priced yearling sale graduate by the sire. Of Twirling Candy's 10 most expensive yearlings sold at auction, six have gone through the ring in 2019.
The stallion's current yearling class is his sixth crop of foals since entering stud at Lane's End in 2012. With five crops of racing age on the track, Twirling Candy is in the midst of a career season, likely spurring the increased interest in his foals in the sales ring.
He's already firmly surpassed his personal best in annual progeny earnings, posting $7,333,219 through Sept. 24 compared with his previous best of $4,953,206 in 2017. His 14 stakes winners on the year is two behind his personal best, also achieved two years ago.
Turf star Concrete Rose is at the front of that group, having swept the first two legs of the New York Turf Tiara series – the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks and non-graded Saratoga Oaks – and two additional Grade 3 races. Still flying the flag for his sire's first crop, Gift Box has been a prominent figure in the West Coast's handicap division, with wins in the G1 Santa Anita Handicap and G2 San Antonio Stakes.
In the juvenile division, Twirling Candy is represented by Collusion Illusion, winner of the G2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. Twirling Candy also has Grade 3 winners Morticia and Law Abidin Citizen, as well as Queen's Plate winner One Bad Boy.
Long past due for a commercial reckoning equal to his success on the racetrack, perennial leading turf sire Kitten's Joy saw the second-biggest jump in his average sale price, rising 79.72 percent to $193,179 from 42 sold after finishing at $107,489 from 45 sold in 2018.
Kitten's Joy doubled the number of yearlings sold for $400,000 or more from two to four in 2019, led by Hip 445, a colt out of the winning Officer mare Illegal Search who sold to Shadwell Estate Co. Ltd. for $700,000, the second-most ever paid for a Kitten's Joy yearling at North American auction.
The Shadwell operation has been one of Kitten's Joy's biggest supporters at auction. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's stable purchased the North American record-priced Kitten's Joy yearling at last year's Keeneland September sale for $725,000, and Shadwell accounted for three of the sire's four most expensive offerings at this year's sale.
The yearlings going through the ring in 2019 are from the 12th crop of Kitten's Joy, and it's the final group conceived at Ramsey Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., before the champion turf horse was relocated to Hill 'n' Dale Farms in Lexington for the 2018 breeding season.
“I think Kitten's Joy is just an example of a horse that the whole world recognizes and accepts as a great sire,” said John G. Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale. “That comes with a couple things: One, longevity, doing it year after year. More importantly, I think it comes when the success is shared by international breeders, like Shadwell and Qatar Racing with Roaring Lion. When other people own them and they win elite races, I think the horse is a lot more accepted.
“There are examples of very good sires where the owner is the only one who bred their good horses,” he continued. “Those horses don't enjoy commercial acceptance because nobody has had the exposure or shared the fame and glory of the stallion. For the longest time, Ken Ramsey made and supported the horse, and then slowly, The Aga Khan and other world-class breeders started breeding to the horse, and there have been a lot of good horses produced and owned by outside parties. I think that's the predominant difference.”
Hill 'n' Dale also accounts for the stallion with the third-biggest jump in average, Maclean's Music.
The son of Distorted Humor had 27 yearlings bring an average price of $68,809 in 2019, up 65.52 percent from 2018 when he had 11 yearlings average $41,136. His top seller of 2018 brought $210,000, and he had three yearlings meet or exceed that mark this year, including a pair at $300,000.
This season's class of yearlings, the fifth crop for Maclean's Music, was conceived in the first half of 2017, which saw Cloud Computing become a multiple graded stakes-placed runner from his debut crop and eventually take home a victory in the Preakness Stakes.
“There was a little bit of lull last year,” Sikura said. “When you take those kind of horses, you get by in the first year, struggle in the second; the third year, it's manes and tails, and then when you get runners, it starts all over again. His foals this year will be the first crop of his better mares, and he's bred really good mares, so we hope and think he's going to be a resurgent horse.”
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