Standing in the hallway of the Keeneland sales pavilion Monday evening, bloodstock agent John McCormack championed his faith in the North American breeding industry and the renewed sense of confidence he has felt from his fellow players in the Thoroughbred marketplace.
What truly drove home McCormack's optimism was his actions moments earlier during the Keeneland April 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
After some slow early going that highlighted the polarization in the juvenile market, the last major select juvenile sale of the season rolled to across-the-board gains in all key categories.
Count McCormack as one who helped open the flood gates. The European-based agent went to a sale-topping $700,000 to buy a bay filly by Unbridled's Song on behalf of an undisclosed client in the early portion of the single-session sale, paving the way for some competitive action in the upper middle-market range.
A total of three juveniles sold for $500,000 or more, equal to the number that cracked the mark a year ago. Overall totals surpassed the 2012 sale. Gross receipts of $11,640,000 from the sale of 59 horses were up 19.34 percent from a year ago, the average of $197,288 rose by the same percentage, and the median went from $120,000 in 2012 to $150,000.
"I think the confidence in the market has come back," McCormack said after signing the ticket for the Unbridled's Song filly. "I think ... when it was tough, the money hadn't gone away, the confidence had gone away. I think people feel more steady to spend now.
"America is a terrific country to buy from. There are so many countries that feed into here, and that is unlike other countries. They'll still stand tall here and they'll continue to breed great horses, and we'll keep coming to buy them."
The juvenile market can take on an all-or-nothing feel, especially in select sales when the smaller number of offerings can lend itself to highly selective shopping.
Even with just 57 horses sold from the 137 cataloged, Keeneland officials got their wish for more buying depth. The rate of horses not sold was 26.25 percent, down from 37.89 percent in 2012.
"In the 2-year-old world for as long as I can remember, those are very good numbers," said Walt Robertson, Keeneland's vice president of sales. "I think we've grown to be acceptable when (the rate for reserves not attained) is 30 percent, so I couldn't be happier with that. By the time the horses got here and we had the breeze show, we knew we had a bunch of really nice horses."
The quality of the sale-topping filly was obvious on the page and in her physical make-up. Out of Giant's Causeway mare Eden's Causeway, the bay filly consigned by Ciaran Dunne's Wavertree Stables is a half sister to Grade I winner Eden's Moon.
"She was a wonderful filly from the day we got her," said Dunne, whose Wavertree Stables led all consignors with 19 horses sold for $4,445,000. "We knew she'd be a special offering, a Grade I filly by a super stallion, and you just don't see them in this marketplace. When she backed it up on the track (breezing an eighth of a mile in 10 seconds at the under-tack show), it was always likely she was going to make a name for herself in the ring."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.