Though it owns the distinction as North America’s first major Thoroughbred auction of the calender year, the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale is always more of a continuation than a fresh start.
Whatever market trends showed up during the marquee November breeding stock sales aren’t going to dissipate in a fistful of weeks. And while there are positive indicators likely to hold over when the January auction begins its five-day run Monday, increasing pickiness among buyers has become a major talking point when discussing any sustainable momentum.
Steady as the 2015 Thoroughbred marketplace was in its overall results, it was also wildly discriminating. Shoppers are increasingly unforgiving in their demands and, by extension, more narrow with their short lists.
Both the bellwether Keeneland September Yearling Sale and the November auction ended with higher rates of horses not sold compared to the previous year. The same was true with Fasig-Tipton’s October yearling and November breeding stock sales.
As more product begins to creep back into the marketplace — the January catalog of 1,796 horses is up from 1,610 a year ago — the criteria for broodmares, broodmare prospects and yearlings becomes extremely tight, according to those trying to move those offerings.
I feel like we’re seeing a polarization. And I think they are being very, very brutally hard on the older mares.
Carrie Brogden of Select Sales Agency
“There is no question. Every year there is a new hoop. For these horses to pass all the tests they have to pass, especially the expensive horses, it’s not an easy thing to do,” said Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud, which will be handling the North American dispersal of bloodstock from the estate of Sarah Jane Leigh as part of its January consignment. “Everyone has a different perspective. With the quality of digital X-rays and all the diagnostics we have today, they (buyers) can analyze these horses a lot more than they used to be able to. So they’re seeing things they never saw before.”
Top physical offerings with a race record or pedigree to match can elicit highly competitive bids at the top end. But in the increase in veterinary scrutiny, buyers also seem to be skewing younger when it comes to tabbing the most desirable mares.
With all of those discriminatory tendencies, buyers probably can find good value if willing to be more forgiving when it comes to perceived knocks.
“I feel like we’re seeing a polarization. And I think they are being very, very brutally hard on the older mares,” said Carrie Brogden of Select Sales Agency. “I just saw one of the major farms here decided to sell off all their mares that were above the age of 12, because these mares couldn’t produce beyond the age of 12. Meanwhile that same farm, the best runner off that farm is out of a 17-year-old mare right now, which I find hysterical.
“I guess in the end … people want to put boxes around horses, they want to put boxes around athletes. There is not a box to a great racehorse. OK, your horse has perfect vetting. But does he have perfect vetting because he has strong bones and is awesome? Or does he have perfect vetting because he’s too slow to do anything to himself or because he’s been locked in his stall? There are so many different facets to it.”
If the January sale does pick up where November left off, participants should expect solid but still realistic results.
The Keeneland November sale’s gross and average improved over 2014 figures, but the median took a slight hit. Last year’s January auction suffered across-the-board declines, but the varying nature of breeding stock sales often makes year-to-year comparisons a challenge.
“With the higher (stud) fees starting to go up now, I think the market is good,” said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, the leading consignor at the Keeneland January sale for three of the past four years. “You’ve got to watch what you’re doing, but there are places you can do good in the market. There are mares in sales that are maybe not by the greatest stallion but can run and look good — you can buy those at an affordable price. And if you get a good yearling, you can pay for the mare.
“I like sort of a steady market. I don’t like it when it ramps way up and goes way down. When it stables off, people know what they can do and know what to expect.”
The Keeneland January runs through Friday; sessions start at 10 a.m.