While the overall attitude of the Thoroughbred marketplace appeared to take a bit of an upturn in the days leading up to the Keeneland January horses-of-all-ages sale, Monday's opening session remained firmly stuck in the doldrums.
The first major Thoroughbred auction of 2010 looked much like many of the sales that preceded it the past 15 months as overall numbers suffered steep double-digit declines in a climate still ripe with reluctancy.
Traditionally, the January auction has been viewed as an extension of Keeneland's November sale, and when that exercise performed better than some expected there was hope the market was finally bottoming out.
The spotty quality of January's opening session was exposed, however, as the gross of $6,592,600 from 178 sold declined by 44.81 percent compared to the corresponding session in 2009. The average ($37,037) and median ($20,000) also took hits falling off by 37.37 percent and 25.93 percent.
The buyback rate came in at 30.47 percent compared to 26.5 percent in 2009.
"This session last year had the two sale toppers and this session didn't, so maybe tomorrow will have it and it will all balance out," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "I think today was more a reflection of the quality of the horses, which is why we don't like to compare mixed sales to mixed sales because you're not guaranteed of the quality."
Although there was still money for the quality offerings, buyers were willing to go only so far with their funds.
Distorted Passion, a stakes-winning daughter of Distorted Humor who notched her latest victory on New Year's Day, failed to meet her reserve after bringing a final bid of $400,000 — a figure that would have topped the opening session.
"The market is tough obviously," said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, which consigned Distorted Passion. "That's a very quality mare and ... that's the kind where if you can buy her anywhere near that (price), anyone who wants to be in the business long-term that's the kind of mare you ought to want to own."
The demand for foals was expected to be strong, but it was the young mares that continued to bring the highest prices.
Miss Catalyst, a stakes-winning daughter of Mr. Greeley, sold for $325,000 to Twin Creeks Racing to top the first day.
The 4-year-old chestnut filly most recently won the Pebbles Stakes over a mile on the Belmont turf October 12. She will remain in training with Todd Pletcher once she fully recovers from a stress fracture in her left hind, according to Twin Creeks manager Randy Gullatt.
"She has a little injury that needs a little time and then we'll move forward with her," Gullatt said. "I thought she was a very good looking filly with good broodmare potential.
"A couple years ago she probably would have been much more but I think (the price) was fair value."
The sale, which continues through Friday, resumes Tuesday at 10 a.m.