Demand for Quality Paces Keeneland Sale
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Hip 4762 was the final horse into the sales ring at the Keeneland November sale

Keeneland’s 13-day November breeding stock sale that ended Nov. 20 reflected a stable market that mirrored recent trends, in which there is continued demand for quality and buyers' lack of willingness to take risks on horses that do not fit their criteria.

Keeneland reported gross receipts of $215,213,000 for 2,653 horses sold, compared with last year’s 12-day auction, when 2,575 horses grossed $218,959,400. The cumulative average fell 4.6% to $81,121 from last year’s $85,033 and the median price of $25,000 represented a 16.7% decline from the $30,000 figure in 2015.

From 4,762 cataloged, 1,134 head were withdrawn, with 975 bought back for an RNA rate of 26.9%, only slightly higher than the 25.2% rate in 2015.

The auction began Nov. 8 with the best horses in the sale cataloged in Book 1 generating momentum that carried throughout the first week and into the second week, when most of the 100 horses from the complete dispersal of Conquest Stables went through the ring.

“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.” 

Geoffrey Russell, director of sales operations for Keeneland, said market polarization is widening, with some troubling signs for the future if the current trend continues.

 “I think the buzzword is quality, and quality sells,” he said. “Horses that meet the market sell very well and people are willing to pay a premium for them. Horses that don’t meet the market don’t sell very well.

“There is a polarization creating two distinct markets—commercial and non-commercial,” Russell continued. “Buyers are sending a clear message: They want quality. This is an industry issue worldwide, not just in America. 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.”

While the very top dipped slightly, with the 19 horses selling in excess of seven figures down from 22 a year ago, there were considerable gains at the next tiers, with the number of horses sold for $500,000 or more increasing to 74 from 58 and the number above $250,000 rising from 182 last year to 192 this year.

Topping the entire sale was Unrivaled Belle, the 2010 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic (gr. I) winner in foal to leading sire Tapit   who was purchased by Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm for $3.8 million after a protracted bidding war with representatives of the Don Alberto Group. The sale-topper was consigned by Eaton Sales, agent.

WINCZE-HUGHES: Unrivaled Belle to Pope for $3.8 Million

Whisper Hill was leading buyer with four horses purchased for $7.2 million and, in partnership with Gainesway, bought a fifth horse for $950,000. 

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

Tapit was the sale’s top covering sire by gross, with seven in-foal mares selling for $9,625,000. WinStar's Constitution   was leading first-year covering sire, as seven mares in foal to the two-time grade I winner grossed $3,557,000, an average price of $508,143.

Deceased stallion Unbridled's Song was the sale's leading sire of broodmares, broodmare prospects, or racing/broodmare prospects, with 25 sold for $9,268,500, an average price of $264,814.

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

MITCHELL: Magnier Gets War Front Colt for $1.45 Million

The sale’s second-highest price of $3.5 million was paid by Sheikh Mohammed’s agent John Ferguson for Secret Gesture, a multiple group I-placed daughter of Coolmore's superstar international sire Galileo. The mare consigned by Hunter Valley Farm was sold in foal to War Front, perennially among North America’s leading sires.

BLOODHORSE STAFF: Ferguson to $3.5 Million for Secret Gesture

One of the sale’s highlights was the complete dispersal of Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell’s Conquest Stables, which during only four years of existence under the direction of Canadian champion trainer Mark Casse rose to the upper echelon of North American racing. Semersky announced in August that he was getting out of the racing and breeding industry for personal reasons.

The Conquest dispersal was topped by the $1.5 million bid of SF Bloodstock and Newgate Farm for grade I winner My Conquestadory, also in foal to Tapit.

MITCHELL: Conquest Dispersal Boosts Keeneland Day 8

With Lane’s End handling the dispersal, most of which came during the second week of the sale, when racehorses are offered to the public, Conquest sold 100 horses for total receipts of $11,207,500, exceeding the consignor’s expectations.

Lane’s End was the sale’s leading consignor, selling 265 horses for $26,030,300

The auction also included a reduction of the Phipps Stable, with nine horses consigned by Claiborne Farm bringing $2,592,000. At $530,000, the high seller was Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner and millionaire Pleasant Home, in foal to Claiborne’s Orb  , sold to Charles Fipke.

HAMMONDS: Fipke Goes to $530,000 for Pleasant Home

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. There were 113 horses withdrawn from the session, with 25 not sold.

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

The next sale conducted by Keeneland will be the 2017 January horses of all ages sale, to be held Jan. 9-13.

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