Results of 2014's sales of juveniles have a feast-or-famine feel to them heading into Keeneland's April 2-year-olds in training one-day auction Monday.
Both the Barretts March sale and the OBS March auction posted across-the-board gains, with the latter shattering sale records for gross, average and median price. But lingering market weakness emerged during the Fasig-Tipton Florida select 2-year-old sale in March as all major figures plummeted by double-digit percentages, and 45 percent of horses were not sold.
With catalogs shrinking because of a declining foal crop and the usual numbers of fragile offerings withdrawn, there is growing overall concern that fewer buyers will travel to select sales that ultimately have a relatively small number of horses available.
"It's kind of scary, isn't it?" said Becky Thomas of Sequel Bloodstock, which is consigning a Sky Mesa colt out of the Grand Slam mare Alfonsina. The colt lit up the pre-sale breeze show when it worked an eighth of a mile in 0:9.2. "I think a lot of us are very nervous — we haven't seen a mid-market. What makes Keeneland different is we obviously are at a race meet, and there are people stabled here, so if there is any interest it is easy for them.
"We are hopeful that these guys pop from the races right back to the barns. But the numbers are the biggest thing. Who wants to come for a small number of horses?"
Of the 125 horses cataloged for the Keeneland sale, 62 had been withdrawn as of Sunday.
One of the byproducts of having a smaller pool of horses to choose from is that buyers often land on the same group of elite horses, leaving little demand for offerings that have a mark or two against them.
"When you've got a lot of scratches in a small catalog, quite a lot of people maybe aren't attracted to come. So they gravitate to the top group, and there is no middle," said consignor Niall Brennan. "Some horses sell tremendous, but they're carrying the whole sale. That's what happened at Fasig. I'd say somehow the landscape of the select sales is going to have to change.
"The buyer base is not big enough to support these smaller select sales, so I think we need to consolidate a little bit."
Still, last year's Keeneland April sale posted strong results as gross, average and median surpassed 2012 numbers. And even with the outs, this year's compact catalog has quality throughout, including a half-brother to leading sire Tapit that is by Malibu Moon.
This year's April sale will be the last one where the pre-sale breeze show is held over Polytrack, as Keeneland announced it will be converting back to a dirt main track in the fall.
Sales participants' opinions varied widely about how the change in surface might affect next year's sale.
"I read that somebody said maybe the Keeneland sale will get more popular (back on dirt), but if what just happened at the Florida sales is any indication, I would say no," trainer Mark Casse said. "I can tell you the rate of injury versus OBS March (on a synthetic surface) and Fasig-Tipton (on the dirt) post-breeze, there was no comparison.
"It remains to be seen whether more consignors would want to bring horses back here next April because it's here on dirt," Brennan added. "I don't know any consignors that are not coming to Keeneland because it is synthetic. I love the track here, but I'm supportive of what they're trying to do."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.