Keeneland November Sale reflects larger market trends

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TwinSpires Staff

November 20th, 2016

Edited Keeneland press release

Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale concluded Sunday with solid results that further recent trends toward selectivity and strength in the top and middle markets. Spirited competition among the world’s top buyers for quality individuals resulted in the sale of 19 horses for $1 million or more, highlighted by the $3.8 million paid for 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1) winner and millionaire Unrivaled Belle, the most expensive Thoroughbred sold at public auction in the world this year, and the $3.5 million given for Group 2 winner Secret Gesture.

Conducted November 8-20, this year’s 13-day November Sale grossed $215,213,000 for 2,653 horses, dipping from last year’s 12-day auction when 2,575 horses brought total sales of $218,959,400. The cumulative average of $81,121 decreased 4.6 percent from last year’s $85,033. The median price of $25,000 was down 16.67 percent versus $30,000 in 2015.

“The November Sale reflected what we’ve seen recently: perceived quality or commerciality is well-rewarded,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “Participation by a deep buying bench comprising domestic and international interests was as strong as ever, with enthusiastic duels from multiple bidders who were willing to stretch their budgets for the premier horses. The horses of racing age portion of the sale also created energy and successfully attracted leading trainers and end-users. The money is here, but you must have something of value.”  

During the first two sessions of the sale, which made up the premier Book 1, 18 million-dollar horses sold to 14 different entities representing major buyers from the U.S., Australia, China, Dubai, Ireland and Japan. 

Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm acquired the sale-topping Unrivaled Belle, in foal to leading sire Tapit. Whisper Hill purchased four horses for $7.2 million to be the November Sale’s leading buyer by gross. A fifth horse was purchased by Whisper Hill in partnership with Gainesway for $950,000. 

Tapit was the sale’s leading covering sire by gross with seven in-foal mares selling for $9,625,000.  

Korea’s K.O.I.D. ranked as the sale’s leading buyer by number purchased, acquiring 63 horses for $1,487,700.

The November Sale also featured the Complete Dispersal of Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell’s Conquest Stables, which sold 100 horses for $11,207,500. The dispersal was topped by the sale of Grade 1 winner My Conquestadory, in foal to Tapit, for $1.5 million to SF Bloodstock and Newgate Farm. 

Prominent offerings from the Conquest Stables dispersal and from WinStar Farm further strengthened the horses of racing age segment of the November Sale, held November 14-15, and contributed to significant gains during those two sessions. Three Chimneys Farm paid $1.075 million for Uptown Twirl, a 3-year-old stakes-winning half-sister to Classic Empire, winner of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Bashford Manor (G3). It marked the first time in November Sale history that a horse has sold for seven figures during the second week of the auction.

Lane’s End, which consigned the Conquest Stables dispersal as well as Uptown Twirl and multiple Grade 2 winner She’s Not Here, a broodmare prospect sold to China Horse Club for $1.3 million, ranked as the sale’s leading consignor, selling 265 horses for $26,030,300.

John Ferguson, principal buyer for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, paid $3.5 million for Group 2 winner Secret Gesture, a 6-year-old Galileo mare in foal to War Front, consigned by Hunter Valley Farm, agent. 

While demand continued to be strong for premium horses, strengthening upper and middle markets, the November Sale confirmed a recent trend at sales at Keeneland and around the world. Buyers remain increasingly selective in their purchases and are unwilling to take a risk on less commercial horses. The downturns seen in the final days of the November Sale elicited a note of caution from Keeneland officials. 

“There is a polarization creating two distinct markets – commercial and non-commercial,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell said. “There is plenty of money for horses that meet the market, but it’s a different story for horses that don’t meet the criteria set by the market. Buyers are sending a clear message: They want quality.

“This is an industry issue worldwide, not just in America,” Russell added. “The number of annual sale days is ticking up again. This is a troubling sign given buyers’ selectivity. We as an industry don’t want to forget the difficult lessons we learned from a similar situation just a few years ago.”

Denali Stud’s Craig Bandoroff, who sold the broodmare Lassofthemohicans for $1.05 million, echoed concerns about the market for those horses that lack commercial viability.

“We had a very good sale in Books 1 and 2; quality sold well,” he said. “Once you got to Book 4, to me it was like somebody popped a balloon. I would say the market is a lot thinner than you’d like it to be. It’s bad (for breeders) because you’re not covering costs on horses. Unfortunately, there are some stallion programs that are encouraging it. It’s keeping horses in production that don’t need to be kept in production.

“The good weanlings sold well but it was a much smaller group,” Bandoroff said. “If you had a really good physical today (on Day 12), there’d be somebody here to buy it. The price is determined by the pedigree, but to get to that first step, you’ve got to have the physical.

“Our business is good,” he said. “I’m not a doom and gloomer by any means. But there are definitely some signs on the horizon that this (market) is not healthy all the way through.”

The November Sale’s most expensive racing or broodmare prospect was 2016 Just a Game (G1) winner Celestine, purchased by Moyglare Stud Farm of Ireland for $2.55 million. Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, consigned the 4-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy who is to resume training with Christophe Clement in Florida.

Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier paid $1.45 million for the sale’s top-priced weanling, a son of War Front consigned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency, agent. The colt is out of Drifting Cube, a sister to Group 2 winner and Coolmore Australia stallion Rubick and from the family of Australian Group 1 winner and leading sire Redoute’s Choice.

The auction’s third session on November 10 included the sale of nine horses consigned by Claiborne Farm, agent for Phipps Stable Reduction, for $2,592,000. At $530,000, the high seller was Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner and millionaire Pleasant Home, in foal to Orb, sold to Charles Fipke.

The depth and breadth of Keeneland’s buying bench were reflected in the diversity of buyers participating deep into the second week of the sale. Joining the strong domestic presence were buyers from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Korea, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, among others. 

Turkish bloodstock agent Omer H. Aydin bought 19 horses in Books 2-7 for a total of $656,500. Among his purchases was the stallion General Quarters for $50,000. Winner of the 2009 Blue Grass (G1) at Keeneland and the 2010 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs, General Quarters is to join such American-raced stallions as Victory Gallop, Lion Heart and Sea Hero owned by The Turkish Jockey Club.

Aydin said he has bought horses at Keeneland for 20 years.

“You can find dirt horses, turf horses, sprinters, everything here,” he said. “The American horse has a big influence on the improvement of racehorses. They encourage speed. I like British racing, but I believe the U.S. Thoroughbred is the best.”

On Sunday, Keeneland sold 122 horses for $609,900, for an average of $4,999 and a median of $3,000. There was no comparable session in 2015.

Teresa Little, agent, paid the day’s top price of $35,000 for a weanling filly by Shanghai Bobby out of stakes winner Rhome Magic, by Magic Cat. The filly was consigned by Darby Dan Farm, agent for the Complete Dispersal of Thomas McClay.

Keeneland thanks its consignors and buyers for their support throughout the auction season. The next sale will be the 2017 January Horses of All Ages Sale, to be held Monday, January 9, through Friday, January 13.

Photo of sales topper Unrivaled Belle courtesy of Keeneland