The first two days of the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages sale mirrored most other public auctions conducted over the past couple of years.

Basically, there is strength at the top, which in turn is boosting numbers in other price ranges. There are also some holes within the market, especially at the mid levels and far too many horses failing to reach their reserves.

Topped by Monday’s $2.7 million sale of Irish Cherry, there were four seven-figure transactions during the first two days of the seven-day auction. There was only one such sale during the first two days of January 2007.

A breakdown of Keeneland figures of sessions 1 and 2 compiled by shows there was also considerable strength at the $200,000 and above level, but weakness just below that line. The number of sales within the $500,000 to $1 million price range was unchanged this year, with seven horses changing hands during the first two days in both 2008 and 2007.

From $200,000 to $500,000, there were 51 horses sold this year, compared with only 37 during the same two sessions one year ago.

That bullishness was offset somewhat by weakness within the $150,000-$200,000 range, where only 24 horses were sold this year. In 2007, there were 40 horses sold within this range. At the $100,000-$150,000 level, the 57 transactions this year far outpaced the 45 in 2007.

Moving on down the price ladder, we see increases of 16.7% and 17.6% in the $90,000-$99,999 and the $80,000-$89,999 categories, respectively.

But any softness in the market is then indicated in the price blocks from $20,000 up to $79,999. During the Monday and Tuesday sessions, 21 horses sold for prices between $70,000-$79,999, compared with 27 last year. Similarly, the 30 horses sold for $60,000-$69,999 in 2007 far outpaced the 19 this year. There were declines posted in the following other price ranges: $50,000-$59,999, 22 in 2008, 36 in 2007; $40,000-$49,999, 37 in 2008, 47 in 2007; $30,000-$39,999, 41 in 2008, 43 in 2007; $20,000-$29,999, 34 in 2008, 52 in 2007.

Unchanged this year from last were the number of horses sold for $10,000-$19,999 (40 each year) and $5,000-$9,999 (26). Finally, there was only a nominal decline (from 18 last year to 17 this year) at the $0-$4,999 price level.

Obviously, the overall strength of these figures – with most of the gains felt at the upper end – is indicated by the cumulative 26.7% increase in average and 17% rise in median during the sale’s first two days.

But there are areas within the winter mixed marketplace that pose concerns for the industry, particularly the two-day cumulative buyback rate of 26.9%, compared with an RNA rate for 21.8% for the same period one year ago.

While the overall numbers are up, there are still too many horses being offered for sale and that too many are not profitable, said Tom Thornbury, associate director of sales. At some point, there will be a market correction due to the overall lack of profitability.

“It is kind of like musical chairs. Right now, the music is playing and it is fun,” Thornbury said. “But at some point, when you stop you don’t have a chair.”

But for now, there are still opportunities for prudent buyers within this marketplace.

“I think there is value for the buyer looking at the level just below the top, for a top mare who has produced runners but who has some age,” he said.

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