Middle-market strength carries Keeneland January sale

Ponche de Leona topped Tuesday's Keeneland sales, bringing in $775,000.
Ponche de Leona topped Tuesday's Keeneland sales, bringing in $775,000. Keeneland Photo

It was fair, competitive and properly discerning in all the expected spots.

As outside temperatures swung from biting to reasonable over the course of four days, the Thoroughbred marketplace remained steadfast in its current favorable climate as the 2014 Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale carried forward the strong indicators of 2013.

Where last year's January catalog featured three seven-figure mares and a number of high-profile offerings from the dispersal of Fares Farm's stock, the 2014 edition of the auction, which wrapped up Thursday, showed middle-market strength and a deep reserve of buying power.

The absence of million-dollar horses contributed to an overall gross of $41,025,700, a decline of 9.25 percent from the 2013 sale, and an average of $39,947, down 2.36 percent from a year ago.

The cumulative median, however, reflected the positive energy of the trade, with that number increasing 33.33 percent to $20,000.

This year's sale sold 1,027 horses, down from 1,105 last year, when the January exercise was held over five days.

The Thoroughbred market usually tips its hand leading up to its auctions. With the mixed sales of 2013 generating huge numbers across the board, the January sale was expected to be another confidence-building platform.

Indeed, most of the hard-core grumbling within the pavilion centered around the single-digit temperatures that blasted the area the first two days. Buyers showed they are still willing to stretch their dollars to obtain quality offerings, and savvy consignors were rewarded for reasonable reserves, as evidenced by the buyback of 19.5 percent, an improvement from 25 percent last year.

"Everything we hoped would happen in the market has happened, and probably even more," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "I keep coming back to ... we are in a new market, and it's a very healthy new market. Consignors and breeders are getting fair return on their investment if the horse meets the market.

"Buyers are willing to give good money for horses, but if you get aggressive, you lose. And this sale last year we had the Fares dispersal — that's why we never like to compare mixed sales to mixed sales."

Where the European auction ranks appear to be fueled mostly by a handful of top-end buyers, Russell again pointed to the broad base of shoppers who have entered all segments here.

Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable went to $775,000 to purchase the January sale topper, Ponche de Leona, dam of 2013 Breeders' Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man. Ben Glass, agent for owners Gary and Mary West, led all buyers with 30 horses purchased for $1,682,000 as he shopped for stock to support the Wests' two new stallions, Power Broker and New Year's Day.

"This sale, I think it's more about what's here than whatever the totals are going to be at the end," said Craig Bernick of Glen Hill Farm, which purchased three horses for $815,000, including the Maria's Mon mare Louvakhova for $425,000. "The catalog is pretty light, but I think the market is very strong. For the right horse, there is a lot of money."

Taylor Made Sales led all consignors by gross at the January sale for the 12th time since 2001, selling 99 horses for $4,126,200.

The demand for newly turned yearlings remained staunch, with David Ingordo signing the ticket for a Kitten's Joy colt that went for $235,000, the highest-priced foal of the sale.

"You get a feel from the auctioneers and the comments from the buyers of how tough it is to buy what they want to buy," Russell said. "I like the fact that all levels of the market are good. It's highly competitive at the top, but it's spread out — it's not just down to the factions."