The Keeneland January horses of all ages sale soared during its opening session, with the median price rising 60% from 2011. The gross revenue and average price also were up at the start of the first major Thoroughbred auction of 2012, climbing 30.4% and 16.6%, respectively, Jan. 9 in Lexington.
“It’s been a lot more positive and a lot more fun than last year,” said Tommy Eastham, the sales director for Darby Dan Farm. “There’s a good base of buyers here with different criteria and they’re participating at all levels of the market. We’re getting horses sold in a range anywhere from $1,500 to $85,000.”
The final results on the auction’s inaugural day included a gross of $13,932,200 for the 209 horses that were sold. Their average was $66,661 and their median was $32,000.
The buy-back rate was 27.7%, falling significantly from 35.1% last year.
“This was a good, solid start to the sale,” said Walt Robertson, Keeneland’s vice president of sales. “We hope the momentum continues.”
The January auction follows a Thoroughbred marketplace rally in 2011 after four consecutive years of setbacks overall.
“Everybody was very cautious about what was going to happen this time last year,” said Adrian Regan of Hunter Valley Farm. “But the (encouraging performances of the) September and November sales (at Keeneland) and the sales in Europe definitely gave people a boost, I think.”
Topliner, the dam of 2011 Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) winner Star Billing, brought the top price of $1.4 million for the opening session of the January auction. Naohiro Hosoda signed the sale ticket for Katsumi Yoshida of Northern Farm in Japan. Hosoda’s competition in spirited bidding battle included Doug Cauthen and Frank Taylor, who were representing Aaron and Marie Jones, and Louise and Kiki Courtelis.
“She’s a young, proven mare and her family is great,” Hosoda said. “Star Billing is her first foal and she won on firm turf on the West Coast at a mile (in the Matriarch in California last November), so Mr. Yoshida was encouraged. I sent him a photograph of her (Topliner) and he said go ahead (and buy her). We expected (her to bring) a lot, more than $1 million, but it (the final price) depended on the market. Mr. Yoshida was confident.”
Topliner is an unraced half sister to grade I winners Stellar Jayne (by Wild Rush) and Starrer (by Dynaformer). Their dam, To the Hunt (by Relaunch), placed in two grade III events and was a winner.
Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consigned Topliner for George Krikorian. He is the breeder and owner of Star Billing (by Dynaformer), who also scored in last year’s Senorita Stakes (gr. IIIT).
“It really was about where we figured,” said Hill ‘n’ Dale’s John Sikura of Topliner’s price. “She is a current grade I producer and there is plenty of money here for and interest in stakes-producing mares in foal to world class stallions. We’re happy with how it turned out.”
Spice Island, the dam of 2010 Florida Derby (gr. I) winner and Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) runner-up Ice Box , commanded the day’s second-highest price of $775,000. Kentucky-based Hunter Valley, agent, bought the 13-year-old dark bay or brown daughter of Tabasco Cat.
Hunter Valley’s Fergus Galvin and Regan declined to reveal the identity of Spice Island’s new owner, who was described by Regan as an “existing client.” Regan said the mare would be shipped to Hunter Valley.
Spice Island, who captured the 2003 Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT), is in foal to Tapit , who is a son of Ice Box’s sire Pulpit. Spice Island’s dam, the winning Alysheba mare Crown of Sheba, is a half sister to 1985 Horse of the Year and Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck (by Buckaroo).
“She’s a lovely physical of a mare,” said Galvin of Spice Island. “She’s in foal to the right sire and the dam of a grade I winner. She has everything you would want.
“We thought she would be valued under a million,” he added, “and we’re pleased to get her at the price we did.”
Bluewater Sales, agent, consigned Spice Island for Kurt Butenhoff of Denlea Park, which bred Ice Box.
“It was a good price for her,” said Bluewater’s Meg Levy. “I think the stars kind of aligned with her being in foal to Tapit and (and the recent announcement about) Ice Box going to stud (at Calumet Farm). She’s just a quality mare and people still want quality. She kind of shone in this catalog.”
Brad Kelley’s Kentucky-based Bluegrass Hall operation was the opening day’s biggest spender, paying $1,513,000 for 19 horses. Yoshida, with his purchase of Topliner, ranked second. England-based Blandford Bloodstock was third, paying $1,005,000 for four head.
The Keeneland auction runs through Jan. 12, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. (EST).