Key indicators hold form as Keeneland January concludes

The Keeneland Sales Pavilion at the Keeneland Race Course on Versailles Rd
The Keeneland Sales Pavilion at the Keeneland Race Course on Versailles Rd

Realizations fell right in line with expectations as the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages sale reached the conclusion of its exercise on Friday.

Quality was rewarded. Clearance rates still came in on high side. And while there were no fireworks to shout about from the rooftops, there was a consistency to the trade that in itself can be viewed as a positive.

The Keeneland January auction dutifully carried market trends forward to a steady, if unremarkable, endgame this week. With the sale taking place over five days this year compared to four days in 2015, the gross was able to edge forward in what remains a judicious marketplace.

The total receipts of $35,463,000 from 1,040 head sold came in up 0.45 percent compared to the $35,305,500 generated by 948 horses sold one year ago. Though the average and median posted double-digit gains following the Book 1 portion of the sale over the first two days, overall declines were felt as the going got rougher in the last pair of books.

Total average of $34,099 was down 8.44 percent from 2015 with the median falling 31.25 percent from $16,000 a year ago to $11,000.

All of the above was on par with pre-sale predictions. Though the catalog featured the partial dispersal from the estate of Sarah J. Leigh as well as the dispersal from the estate of Eric A. Delvalle, it lacked any seven-figure offerings.

At the high end, the sale saw venerable owner/breeder Virginia Kraft Payson making her presence felt again in the auction ranks, purchasing three horses out of the Leigh dispersal for a total of $1.7 million — including the sale-topping Arch mare Summer Solo for $700,000 — to lead all buyers.

As much as sellers were rewarded for their best product, buyers remain steadfast in their strict standards as evident by the rate of horses not sold coming in at 25.02 percent.

“I think the things we saw in September and November kept on playing through here,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “The key word is quality, or perceived quality. It makes no difference if it’s day one or day five, if a horse has quality about them, (buyers) are happy to give good money for them.

“That said, both November and January had an extra day in it and adding to that probably is an increase in the not sold rate. So there will be some sort of concern there. It is a very selective market so that has to be looked at.”

Among the strengths in the current market is the demand for foals among both end-users and those looking to resell. A War Front colt and a filly by Arch were the two highest priced newly turned yearlings in the sale, both going for $450,000.

“There is great strength in the foal market at the moment,” Russell said. “We’ve always had a lot of end users buying foals, but we’ve had a bump in it. I think it’s a segment of the market they think they can get good value on.”

For the third consecutive year, and 14th time since 2001, Taylor Made Sales ranked as the January sale’s leading consignor, selling 92 horses for a total of $4,359,500.

Given the ongoing volatility in the stock market, the steady nature of the Thoroughbred sales arena is that much more impressive. Buyers are shopping with real discretionary income rather than money from banks and as long as the quality keeps up, demand should follow.

“I think the stock market will be pretty turbulent all this year,” Russell said. “It is good that this market has continued on. But as we’ve talked about the last eight years, this is a discretionary market, these are pretty much regular players in this game, and they buying and selling among themselves.”

Alicia Wincze Hughes: 859-231-1676, @horseracinghl

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