Unique horses, depth drive Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale

Exceptional product can amplify a variety of conditions within a commercial marketplace.

It can highlight how far buyers are willing to extend themselves for offerings of rare and unique quality. By extension, it can also foster a more critical eye when evaluating those that are missing some perceived, desirable attributes.

Most of all, it can serve as a powerful engine driving a market that already has its share of momentum.

The 2015 Keeneland November Breeding stock sale brought both one-of-a-kind horses and depth to the table for its 12-day exercise, and performed accordingly. Fireworks at the top end and the resulting trickle-down effect spurred the November sale to its highest gross and average since 2007 though selectivity amongst buyers was equally staunch.

With Keeneland hosting the Breeders' Cup for the first time on October 30-31, the company mantra heading into the November auction was that lingering buzz would only enhance what would transpire inside the sales pavilion just days later.

The excitement from the World Championships certainly didn't hurt, but the pound-for-pound quality of the catalog is what pushed both domestic and international buyers alike to aggressively go after young, proven fillies and mares and royally-bred weanlings. After surpassing the total sales amassed by the 2014 auction during the ninth day of selling, the total gross of $218,959,400 from 2,575 head sold went on to finish up 6.34 percent compared to the $205,899,500 generated by 2,512 lots sold a year ago.

A total of 22 horses sold for $1 million or more, including champion Take Charge Brandi who was purchased by John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farms for a sale-topping $6 million. The average of $85,033 was up 3.74 percent from last season while the median fell from $35,000 in 2014 to $30,000 and the rate of horses not sold came in at 25.21 percent compared to 21.82 one year ago.

"I think it goes to the depth of the catalog," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "We came into the sale knowing we had some very nice offerings in the first books and especially highlighted those foals, and they were well received by the market. And I think that set the tone for the rest of the sale.

"I think people realized that the ones they wanted to buy, they'd have to spend good money for but, people are very critical and...if (the horses) don't meet the criteria they just walk away. I think they're reaching for horses that they really like. That then leaves a gap for the ones that don't quite fit the market. And the difference is razor thin."

The discriminating nature of the market has been a growing trend even throughout the yearling sales. So too, however, has been the desire for buyers to get in on the ground floor when it comes to top offerings.

The weanling market has been particularly strong the past couple seasons and the November exercise further backed that up. Foals accounted for three of the top six prices for the sale including a filly by War Front out of 2013 Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady that established a North American record price for weanling when she sold to Mandy Pope for $3.2 million.

"The overall weanling market, even if you take those super weanlings out of it, I thought was very strong," Russell said. "I think it's (due to) a combination of pinhookers and end users meeting. For several years, the pinhookers (resellers) have been driving this market and last year and this year, we've seen some end users come in, so that is adding to the competition."

Even during the dark days of the market correction, the quest for young and beautiful offerings never dropped off. But as the calendar prepares to shift, how momentum maintains in the face of stud fees trending upwards will determine if profits can still be realized among breeders.

"I thought September (yearling sale) was very good and solid, and it's been the same for three years," Russell said. "You do need to get an uptick in it to help with the expenses and hopefully that will happen."