Hopes are not running high among consignors and sale company officials going into the Keeneland November breeding stock sale, which kicks off its 10-day run Monday. But the mood in Central Kentucky is not gloom and doom either.
"People's expectations are a little muted," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "But we think we will have good, solid November sale. We think the quality of the catalogue is up to last year's (standard). The wild card is how buyers will take to the new sires. That will be very interesting."
Creating a buzz are the debuts of weanlings by 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus and Europe's 2000 Horse of the Year Giant's Causeway, who stood for more than $100,000 apiece during their inaugural seasons at stud in 2001. Another new sire of note is Lemon Drop Kid, the 1999 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner who won an Eclipse Award as champion older horse in 2000. He stood his first year for $100,000.
There also is an intriguing assortment of less expensive new stallions represented by their first crops. The group includes 2000 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner War Chant, 1999 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Cat Thief, multiple grade I winner High Yield, and 2000 Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) winner Dixie Union. Buyers will also get their first look at foals by horses like 2000 Pimlico Special Handicap (gr. I) winner Golden Missile, 1999's champion 2-year-old male Anees, and the crack sprinter Yes It's True.
In all, 3,597 lots have been catalogued for the auction, down by 12.6% from a year ago. The decline is primarily due to a sharp drop in the number of weanlings, which fell from 1,887 last year to 1,339 this year. Contributing heavily to the decline was mare reproductive loss syndrome.
The decrease in supply could increase demand. On the downside, weanling-to-yearling pinhookers struggled to make money this year, so at least one important group of buyers will not be flush with cash.
In terms of broodmares and broodmare prospects, the supply at Keeneland is about the same -- 2,097 this year compared to 2,094 last year. Starine, the surprise winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT), is scheduled to be offered on the auction's second day, and so is her dam, Grisonnante. They are consigned to the auction by Mill Ridge Sales, agent.
Alice Chandler of Mill Ridge Sales said she is expecting the trends seen this year in the yearling market to continue with mixed stock. If that is the case, the middle and lower end will be stronger than the top, which will be readjusting downward.
The American economy is still struggling, and so are the business fortunes of other countries. Deaths of prominent commercial stallions like Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew, and Nureyev will continue to have a negative effect on prices in the Thoroughbred auction arena.
Sessions of the Keeneland November sale start at 10 a.m. each day. The auction runs through Nov. 14.
The mixed stock selling season in Central Kentucky kicks off on Sunday, with the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November select sale, which begins at 7 p.m. (EST). One of the highlights of that auction will be when last year's champion 3-year-old filly, Xtra Heat, goes through the ring. She is coming off a sixth-place finish in the NAPA Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), a race she finished second in last year. Ninety-seven lots are catalogued for the sale.
"She's kicking and squealing and ready to go back to the races," said Fasig-Tipton executive Boyd Browning of Xtra Heat, who arrived at the company's Newtown Paddocks this past Monday.
In addition, Fasig-Tipton will offer 61 mares as part of the annual sales program of Frank Stronach's Adena Springs operation on Nov. 7, beginning at 7:30 p.m.. Stallion Access will conduct an auction of 65 seasons and shares on Nov.8, beginning at 7: 30 p.m.
"I think you'll see a fairly consistent markeplace," Browning said. "I'm not bullish, bullish, bullish. I don't think people are going to bid with reckless abandon, but they are going to bid. I also think consignors will be reasonable in their expectations."