While the top end of the Thoroughbred market has been reliably bullish of late, the opening session of the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages sale showed that the upper echelon is still affected by restraint. And with the day's expected fireworks quelled, it fell to the middle market to set the tone for the four-day auction.
Champion Blind Luck lived up to her billing, garnering the most attention during the sale's initial session. But a final bid of $1.4 million for the 2010 Kentucky Oaks winner failed to meet her reserve during a respectable day of selling that produced a decline in gross but an uptick in average.
Seven-figures horses aren't the norm at the workmanlike January sale, with only 25 offerings hitting that level in the auction's history. Blind Luck figured to make it 26, having sold for $2.5 million at the 2011 Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale when part owner Mark DeDomencio bought out the other partners.
"I thought she was worth twice that," John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Sales, which consigned Blind Luck, said of the final bid. " ... Mares of her comparable ability, race record ... in November (sales) they were making a lot more money. ... Now we'll breed her and go forward."
As bidding during the session continuously failed to reach the half-million-dollar mark, consignors with special offerings withdrew their horses. Among them were stakes winner Foxy Danseur, in foal to leading sire Tapit, and her filly by Medaglia d'Oro.
"They were wanting a nice price for her, and there just doesn't seem to be a lot of the top-end buyers here," said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, which consigned Foxy Danseur and her filly. " ... We just started looking at the people who weren't here who could buy that type of mare and just thought it might be better to bring her back, bring back the foal."
The rate of horses not sold was 33.11 percent, up from 23.93 percent for the corresponding session in 2014.
Even with the big buyback and notable scratches, there was competitive money pushing the sale forward. The overall gross of $12,607,200 from 204 head was down 8.08 percent from 2014, but the average improved 4.54 percent to $61,800, with the median coming in equal to last year at $35,000.
"It was disappointing we couldn't get Blind Luck sold, but that is the market. And the rest of the sale I thought went very well," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "We assumed the broodmare prospects would sell well, and they did. Besides not selling the big mare and having a couple of late outs, overall it was a very good day."
The day's session topper was stakes winner Premier Steps, sold to representatives of Shadai Farm in Japan for $400,000.
"That was significantly more than I thought" she would bring," said Pete Bradley, who bought Premier Steps for Swift Thoroughbreds and campaigned her in partnership. "She had some real potential as a racehorse, and if you look at who she ran against in Europe, she was right there amongst the very best of them."
The sale continues Tuesday at 10 a.m.