Not enough quantity of quality

Shortly after signing the ticket for the stakes-winning filly Bon Jovi Girl on Tuesday, Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud had a simple answer for why he spent $950,000.

"Everybody wants quality," he said.

Unfortunately, during the 2010 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, there simply wasn't enough to go around.

A lack of top-end offerings combined with a depressed marketplace resulted in overall declines as the Keeneland January exercise wrapped up its five-day run Friday.

There were a handful of bright spots during the sale. Miss Isella brought $1.085 million when she sold to Adena Springs owner Frank Stronach. But many sellers held on to their better stock for fear of losing some of their value.

A chestnut filly out of former horse of the year Azeri and a half-sibling to likely 2-year-old champion Lookin At Lucky were among the top prospects scratched before horses arrived. Southern Equine Stables pulled Grade I winners Spoken Fur and Point Ashley on Tuesday and later sold the duo privately.

Overall, the first major Thoroughbred auction of the year grossed $23,895,100. Last year's six-day gross was $32,824,000.

The average, however, fell only slightly from $24,532 last year to $24,333 this season. The median of $8,000 declined by 15.79 percent from last year's $9,500.

The rate of horses not sold came in at 26.99 percent, up from 21.85 percent in 2009.

"It was a fairly typical January sale, but ... the one thing that may have been different is, if you look at the top stuff, about 75 percent of it was scratched out of the sale," said Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys Farm.

"I think it was mainly due to the fact they weren't going to bring what their owners thought they would, so they pulled them.

"(The downturn) was probably due more to the lack of quality (than the market) because the Keeneland November sale was surprisingly OK."

Such variations in quality from year to year are why the January sale is not typically viewed as a barometer for the rest of the auction season. However, this year's sale did show that uncertainty was beginning to dissipate.

"I think the market is resetting itself so we're getting a better feel of it," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "This is reality. This is where it's a pure cash market.

"No one is able to borrow money at the moment, especially to buy horses, so this is discretionary income. If anything, I think this probably is as close to a true market as we've ever had."

The 2-year-olds sales get under way in the coming weeks and could provide a truer read on the financial climate.

"What we can draw from this week is that there is a market for quality ... but buyers are being very careful and discriminating as they make decisions about how to invest their dollars during a turbulent and still fluid time for our industry and the macro economy," Russell said.