As the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale moved into Book 2 during the Jan. 11 third session, the takeaway was the same as during the first two sessions: quality sells.
"That is where everybody is at the moment," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales operations, in analyzing the session that finished virtually unchanged from the comparable day a year ago but is down significantly from last year through the first three days. "It is an expensive business to be in, so people are tending to gravitate to less numbers and higher quality. It's been the theme for the sales season (in) 2016-17."
As breeders move their programs to the upper end of the market, there is less demand for the horses that are being offered in lower price ranges. As a result, many breeders will assess their portfolios and decide whether some mares should be taken out of production or they should breed to race rather than sell, Russell said.
"We're going through a cycle at the moment that we all need to take note of," Russell said. "I think people will be evaluating their breeding stock before the 2017 breeding season and decide if they need to breed the mares or not. Or if you are going to breed, breed to race.
"There is no harm in breeding to race. Racetracks are looking for horses every day, so breed to race. Just because you breed a horse does not mean it needs to come to a horse sale. People need to understand there are certain horses that are sales horses and do very well at sales and there are certain horses that aren't commercial product but still can race very successfully. You need to evaluate your horses and say, 'These are my commercial horses and these are the ones I will sell, and these probably won't meet the market, so I'll put them in training.' But people don't want to put them in training because it is an expensive experience."
The day's average of $17,340 for the 197 horses that grossed $3,415,900 was only slightly down from the session average of $17,351 in 2016, when 220 head grossed $3,817,300. The median fell 5.6% from $9,000 to $8,500.
Cumulatively, 581 horses were sold during the first three days, for total receipts of $24,989,500. At the same point a year ago, a total $30,468,900 was paid for 595 horses.
This year's average is tracking 16% below 2016 (from $51,208 to $43,011) and the cumulative median of $20,000 is down 9% from $22,000.
From 1,174 cataloged, 299 horses have been withdrawn, with the 294 buybacks representing 33.6% of the total through the ring.
Same as a year ago, two mares sold in excess of six figures Wednesday.
"It was good to have two mares break $100,000. It showed there was still money here for the good horses," Russell said.
Consigned as Hip 1118 by Taylor Made Sales Agency, Fifth and Madison is half sister to stakes winners Fordubai and Fast Alex, and was purchased by Starlight for $250,000 from the Gainesway consignment to the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale.
The day's second-highest price of $125,000 was fetched by Bubbles and Babies, a 6-year-old A.P. Indy mare acquired by Canadian-based Josham Farms.
Consigned as Hip 1050 by Catherine Parke's Valkyre Stud, the mare was in foal to Street Boss on a last service date of March 22, 2016. Produced from the Darley Alcibiades (G1) winner Dream Empress, Bubbles and Babies was a $335,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase in 2012.
"She's a beautiful mare and we're very happy to have her, although she is a little more expensive than we thought she would be," said Josham's Ted Burnett, who said she was the first horse they acquired during the sale. "We're looking for mares and this is the first one in the price range we wanted to buy in with the pedigree we're looking for."
Burnett said the mare will be shipped to Ontario to foal and then will return to be bred to a Kentucky-based stallion.
Parke said the mare was being sold because the breeder owns the dam and a half sister.
"She checked all the boxes. She had the pedigree, had the physical ... she's by A.P. Indy," the consignor said.
The gray son of Orb bred in Kentucky by Paget Bloodstock and Galtee Bloodstock was purchased by K.M.C.F.F. His dam, the stakes-placed Langfuhr mare Cherryblossomemiss, is a half sister to multiple grade 2 winner Imperialism and was purchased for $90,000 at the 2015 Keeneland November sale while carrying the colt.
The first foal out of The Best Option, a Pleasant Tap mare who earned more than $220,000, the Awesome Again colt bought by Mary Sue Stables was bred by Dennis Crooks, Terry Young, and Adena Springs.
With 36 horses sold for $812,700, Taylor Made was the session's leading consignor. Trainer Keith Desormeaux bought five for $179,000 to top the buyers' list. The leading covering sire, with three mares selling for $161,000, was Verrazano .
The sale continues through Jan. 13, with daily sessions beginning at 10 a.m.