Without a doubt, last year's Keeneland November breeding stock sale was a blockbuster. It established world auction records for gross revenue and number of horses sold. It posted increases in nearly every statistical category, closing out a decade in which prosperity made a rousing return to the Thoroughbred marketplace.
While the good times did not stop rolling in 2000, it was apparent by the end of the latest November extravaganza at Keeneland that they were not rolling quite as fast.
This year's edition of the sale was bigger in terms of catalogue size (5,111 lots) than ever before, and also was the longest of all time, taking 14 days (Nov. 5-18) to complete. In addition, the auction set a new November standard for average price ($92,495) and erased all existing Keeneland marks for single session gross ($102,450,000 on Nov. 6) and number of horses sold for individual prices of $1 million or more (39).
But in many other statistical categories, the Keeneland November auction of 2000 did not surpass, or even measure up to, 1999's across-the-board success. The median price suffered in comparison, as did the number sold and gross revenue, which both were kept in check by a rising buy-back rate.
While the results did not leave horsemen panic-stricken, they inspired a great deal of fretting. Discussing the reasons for what they perceived as a slowdown, buyers and sellers mentioned everything from rising stud fees to the continuing uncertainty over the winner of the recent presidential election. The cooling of the once hot-hot-hot American economy also was a popular culprit.
"This is the first time in five years that I haven't felt a buzz after the Breeders' Cup, almost a frenzy to buy," said Suzi Shoemaker of Lantern Hill Farm in Kentucky. "There is sort of a hesitancy here among buyers, and I think it has lot to do with the unsettled political situation. I also think you've had rising energy prices and rising interest rates, so people are more cautious than they have been in the past.
"As breeders," she continued, "we all are worried about where stud fees are going. Just about everybody is saying they can't afford the increases for next year. I should also add that I think that the recent troubles in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association definitely have been a factor. People are worried that it might not survive, so that doesn't help."
This year's final November results also were affected negatively when the sale's dispersals did not stack up in terms of quality to those offered in 1999. The auction fell behind last year's pace on opening day, which in 2000 featured dispersals by The Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, Marshall Naify, Morven Stud, and Robert and Bea Roberts. The 200 horses sold grossed $28,095,100, which fell short of 1999's first-session totals of 270 and $39,954,000 for the dispersals of stock owned by the Robertses, Wycombe House Stud, Sliverleaf Farm, and Paul Mellon.
But in the final analysis, the biggest problem this year at Keeneland may have been an oversupply of horses. Record numbers have poured into sales throughout the country this year, and in many cases, they have watered down final statistics. They also have contributed to a polarization in the marketplace between prices at the topmost level and the amounts brought by horses that buyers perceive to be less desirable based on key considerations like pedigree and conformation.
"I don't think there is any shortage of horses at the moment," said Jimmy Bell of Jonabell Farm in Kentucky. "When you get into that kind of situation, I think the pendulum swings back toward the buyers, and they can afford to be more selective. They can go after exactly what they want to fill their order and they don't have to compromise because they have more to choose from. Unfortunately, for the horses that are overlooked, there is very little market for them."
Propelled primarily by an extremely strong demand for high-quality young broodmares and broodmare prospects, the 2000 November auction recorded increases in average price from a year ago on five of its first six days. However, on days seven through 13, the average fell in every session but one. And on the 14th day, the average was down by 31.8% from the 13th and final day figure in 1999.
"I have never experienced so many sales in a row with so many horses," said California bloodstock agent Andy Havens. "When times are good, a lot of people who essentially have noncommercial products bring them out thinking they can get some money for them. They can't. And they also clutter things up."Continued. . . .