Breeding stock sales in the Thoroughbred industry are an inherent mixed bag, their makeup and quality dependent on far more variables that those of the bellwether yearling auctions.
The all-encompassing Keeneland January Horses of All Ages sale is an annual example of why year-to-year comparisons can be an apples-to-oranges exercise. While this year's catalog is varied in terms of substance, overall steadiness within the marketplace is expected to yield positive outcomes when the first major domestic Thoroughbred auction of 2015 begins it four-day run Monday.
Keeneland's January sale is often viewed as a blue-collar extension of its November breeding stock auction, with the latter seeing gains in gross and average and a record-tying median in 2014.
More than a few buyers left the November sale with orders to fill after knocking heads with the biggest outfits. The January auction provides an opportunity to snag some good young mares and newly turned yearlings at competitive but fair prices.
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"January is always kind of a little different in that there are mixed offerings," said Andrew Cary of Select Sales Agency. "You'll have some high-dollar mares, but there is less consistency horse to horse on what they're going to bring. But there are still plenty of people shopping; a lot of people are still looking for good quality mares, nice babies to pinhook.
"I think it'll be a typical January sale. The market has been steadily growing, and I think that will continue this year."
For the sale, which runs through Thursday, 1,610 horses have been cataloged. Last year, the January sale grossed $41,025,700, a 9.25 million decline from the previous year, but the 2014 auction was one day shorter than the 2013 sale.
As the Thoroughbred market has righted itself in recent years, buyers have showed a renewed commitment to the long-term investment that comes with buying broodmares.
There also has been a willingness to start buying by those who might have been on the sidelines during the market correction. Hence, demand for foals was very strong in November, and the expectation is that yearlings will be prized this week.
"I think the foals, the short yearlings, are going to again sell well," said Meg Levy of Bluewater Sales. "In the past few years, we've seen investors who are not breeders wanting to go short-term with the short yearlings into the yearling market. Then when those prices build up, I think breeders get back in, and it just kind of feeds on itself. Then people start saying, we need to stick with the quality, we need to buy something by a mare that gets the good foal. It's just that quality wins out."
Although the January sale typically does not lure the level of international shoppers who attend the November sale, the global appeal of certain pedigrees could provide a top-end boost this week.
Champion Blind Luck, winner of the 2010 Kentucky Oaks, is slated to sell during Monday's session, while Group II winner Up, a daughter of leading sire Galileo, is set to highlight Tuesday's offerings.
Consigned by Four Star Sales, Up is selling in foal to top Claiborne Farm stallion War Front.
The Galileo-War Front combination has produced huge numbers on multiple occasions, including the Keeneland November auction when Aloof — a daughter of Galileo in foal to War Front — sold for a sale-topping $3.9 million.
"For a while there, you couldn't give away the mares. Now, the good mares are hard to buy," said Pope McLean Jr. of Crestwood Farm. "The lesser quality is always going to struggle. Everyone tends to land on the same horses, the real standouts. I think it will be more of the same here, but I think it will be OK."
Sessions for the January sale begin at 10 a.m. daily.