Keeneland January sale starts off just right

Topliner, in foal to Medaglia d'Oro, was sold Monday to Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm in Japan for $1.4 million.
Topliner, in foal to Medaglia d'Oro, was sold Monday to Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm in Japan for $1.4 million. photos by Z/Keeneland

As the Thoroughbred marketplace gets back on its feet after years of hardships, repeating mistakes that contributed to its economic downturn must be avoided.

Thus, while buyers and sellers were happy to see the opening session of the Keene land January Horses of All Ages Sale continue the recent trend of positive numbers, the tinge of caution that remains is viewed by some as not necessarily a bad thing.

The more buoyant vibe on the grounds in the days leading up to the Keeneland January exercise got some validation Monday as the first session of the four-day sale yielded a seven-figure offering and across-the-board increases.

In the wake of a 2011 auction season that produced gains for the first time since 2008 — including particularly strong results for breeding-stock sales — there are hopes this edition of the January auction will have enough quality to keep bidding competitive while producing prices at realistic levels.

Led by the regally bred, Grade I-producing mare Topliner, who sold to Katsumi Yoshida's Northern Farm in Japan for $1.4 million, the first day of the first major auction of 2012 was steady. Its gross of $13,932,200 from 209 horses improved 30.36 percent over last year, and its average price of $66,661 and median of $32,000 jumped by 16.64 and 60 percent, respectively.

The rate of horses not sold also proved notable, coming in at 27.68 percent, a 21 percent improvement from 2011.

"It's strong without being insane, which is really a positive thing," said Carrie Brogden of Select Sales. "People are not going crazy, which is good because I don't want the market ever to go crazy. But I think it's a very good market to have your horses appraised at. Horses with really bad vetting are still a tough sell, but ... I think a good commercial horse is selling well.

"It's a continuation of the stabilization."

Consigned by Hill 'n' Dale Sales, Topliner was pegged as one of the presale standouts after her daughter Star Billing captured the Grade I Matriarch at Hollywood Park in late November.

The 10-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch also comes from a top female family. she is out of the Relaunch mare To the Hunt and is a half-sister to Grade I winners Stellar Jayne and Starrer. Adding to her list of positives is that Topliner sold in foal to top sire Medaglia d'Oro.

"She is a proven mare, a young proven mare, and her family is great," said Naohiro Hosoda, who signed the ticket on behalf of Northern Farm. "We spent a lot, but that's the market."

Graded-stakes winner Spice Island, dam of Grade I winner Ice Box, brought the day's second-highest price of $775,000, from representatives of Hunter Valley Farm, who purchased her on behalf of an undisclosed client.

"It was a good, solid start to the sale," said Walt Robertson, vice president of sales for Keeneland. "We saw significant increases in gross, median and average and a big decrease in the RNA rate. All of these are favorable indicators, and we hope the momentum continues."

The sale continues through Thursday, with each session starting at 10 a.m.