The supply-and-demand relationship had become a decidedly one-sided affair — not a good thing for two entities needing balance to co-exist.
But as results poured in during the 11-session Keeneland September Yearling Sale that concluded Friday, it became clear one of the key mechanisms of the Thoroughbred marketplace had found its harmony.
"Supply has finally been reacquainted with demand," said Kerry Cauthen of Four Star Sales. "They're friends again."
There may not be buyers for every horse, but a contracted edition of the world's largest yearling auction saw a relatively bullish bottom line.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
As a result, the optimism edging back into the marketplace was reinforced by the most telling set of numbers yet in 2012 with the September sale posting gains in average and median and the overall gross of $219,781,500 dipping just 1.66 percent despite selling 405 fewer horses from the previous year.
The final average of $87,354 is up 14.17 percent from 2011. The median improved 50 percent to $45,000, equaling the record set in 2006.
Due to the reduced foal crop, Keeneland cataloged 3,604 yearlings compared to 4,319 in 2011 and cut its previously two-day select sessions into a one-night boutique offering.
What didn't drop off was the desire by many to invest in the Thoroughbred market. With the overall quality of the catalog improved — especially at the bottom end — and a sense of buyer urgency setting in, Keeneland had seven consecutive sessions post across-the-board gains compared to their 2011 counterparts and the rate of horses not sold hit single-digit percentages in the latter parts of the auction.
"It's been good all along this year but the Fasig stuff (at Saratoga) was not as good as this has been," said Mike McMahon of McMahon and Hill Bloodstock. "This has just been awesome. Just the health of the market, buyers, sellers, everybody is very happy. Particularly the sellers on the back end needed a good sale, and they haven't had one in a couple of years.
"Supply and demand, it's really simple. And all that top-end money is not here, yet we're having a great sale."
For a market trying to get its feet back under it, many questioned what would happen if some of the top participants suddenly pulled back in their spending.
That scenario played out the last two weeks as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum — the leading buyer at the Keeneland September sales for 11 of the last 13 years — only purchased a handful of yearlings while Ben Leon and Frank Stronach's Adena Springs were virtually absent from the fray.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum's Shadwell Estate Co. led all buyers with 17 yearlings bought for $8.25 million while participation increased from both domestic and Japanese operations.
"This showed the breadth and depth of the market," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "I'd say I was pleasantly surprised.
"As I said before the sale, we had seen signals that (Sheikh Mohammed's) Darley was not going to be major players, so the fact they aren't and other people stepped up is a very good thing."
A total of seven horses sold for $1 million or more compared to six in 2011, paced by a son of Distorted Humor out of Grade I winner Mushka that brought $1.65 million during the opening session.
Though the market is a stable one heading into the November breeding stock sales, it is also realistic. Sellers have adjusted their reserves in order to get horses sold even if it means sacrificing profit.
"They're getting their horses sold, but it's hard work and you're not getting much more above the reserves," said Martin O'Dowd of Runnymede Farm. "There is a buyer for nearly every horse if you don't set too high a reserve, but are you making enough money off your horses? It's still tough."