by Frank Angst and Esther Marr
Opening day for the first public Thoroughbred auction of 2013 offered encouraging numbers for the new year.
The first session of the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale Jan. 7 registered improvements in gross and average compared with the first session of last year. A total of 201 horses sold for $15,331,400, up 10.04%, and the average price rose 14.42% to $76,276. A year ago the January sale reported extraordinary gains overall; its gross was up 50.5% and average price jumped 53%.
"We had five horses over half-a-million dollars tonight compared with two last year (for the whole sale)," said Keeneland vice president of sales Walt Robertson.
The median declined $2,000 (-6.25%) to $30,000 and Robertson was a bit disappointed to see buybacks increase to 34.1% this year compared with 27.68% in last year's first session.
Still, the day provided a strong start to the sale and the 2013 commercial market. Leading the way was 2011 American Oaks Stakes (gr. IT) winner Nereid (Hip 110), who fetched a final bid of $1.3 million from Lane Seliger for Baumann Stables. Consigned by Winter Quarter Farm as agent for owner Eric Kronfeld, she is by Rock Hard Ten, out of the Belong to Me mare Dowry.
"She had more presence than anything I've had in a couple of years," said Don Robinson of Winter Quarter Farm. "She was the star of the show. She really stuck out here; she was extraordinary in this sale. I expected her to bring a very nice number and she did. I felt pretty good about it."
A representative of Baumann Stables of Amarillo, Texas, declined to comment on the purchase. Baumann remained active throughout the first session, finishing as the opening day's leading buyer with four horses—three mares or broodmare prospects and one male racing prospect—bought for $1,820,000.
"It was a good sale from start to finish," said Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell. "It was nice to see a new domestic buyer participate at the top end."
Broodmare prospects continued to draw strong interest all day as 2012 Hollywood Oaks (gr. II) winner Potesta brought $800,000. She was followed onto the auction stage by undefeated Princess Arabella, who sold for $725,000. The two 4-year-olds would finish as the session's second- and third-highest prices.
"The mares are strong right now. The weanlings are probably okay but the mares are extremely strong right now," said Bruce Hill, general manager of Live Oak Stud, which landed the sale's fourth highest-priced horse, Big Tiz, for $600,000. "I guess with all these good stallions that are being retired, everybody's trying to get them mares, I don't know. But it is very, very strong."
Potesta was purchased by Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables from Three Chimneys Sales, agent. Besides winning the Hollywood Oaks, the Macho Uno daughter also set a track record at Del Mar in the 2012 Torry Pines Stakes, completing one mile in 1:34.86 on the Del Mar Polytrack.
John Moynihan, bloodstock adviser for Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, said Potesta impressed him on the track.
"She was a runner," Moynihan explained. "She would have been in the (Breeders' Cup) Ladies Classic (gr. I) and she would have been a force to be reckoned with. She was rockin'. We're happy to have her. I just think if she had not been injured, she would have been a force in the Ladies' Classic based on the numbers she ran, the races she ran."
No stallion decision has been made yet for the mating of Potesta.
Princess Arabella, a daughter of Any Given Saturday , was purchased by Frank and Jane Lyon's Georgetown, Ky.-based Summer Wind Farm. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales, she is in foal to Tapit .
Undefeated in three starts, Princess Arabella most recently scored an eight-length victory in the Sunland Park Oaks in March 2012. Jane Lyon of Summer Wind Farm was pleased to land Princess Arabella.
"She's a beautiful mare who obviously had tons of talent," Lyon said of the mare, who was bred in Kentucky by Greenwich Cattle Company. "She's young and we're happy to have her."
Lyon said a stallion decision has not been made and added that she'd look into who's available.
A Distorted Humor colt fetched the highest price of any newly turned yearling on the first day of the sale.
Canadian Nat Rea went to $300,000 to land the colt out of the A.P. Indy mare Endless Journey, who is a full sister to grade II winner and sire Jump Start . The Distorted Humor colt is the first foal out of Endless Journey, who was unplaced in one start.
Rea is a former vice chairman and director with Martinrea International, a Canadian auto parts manufacturer. Consigned by Cara Bloodstock (Bernard McCormack), agent, the colt's third dam, Hopespringsforever, by Mr. Prospector, is a full sister to group I winner and successful sire Miswaki.
"He's a special colt—we had him in (Keeneland) November," McCormack said. "He had a little setback, so we thought we'd roll him into January and he'd be a star. He really never let us down the whole time...he never took a step back and he has a great mind. We bought (Endless Journey) for $380,000, so we paid the mortgage on the mare. She's in foal to Tiznow and is going to Speightstown (this year)."
The second Book 1 session will be Jan. 8, where a dispersal of Issam Fares' Fares Farm figures to draw strong interest, although a key horse from the dispersal, Canadian champion Embur's Song, was withdrawn on Jan. 7 because she recently underwent colic surgery.
Also selling Jan. 8 are three horses from the late Barbara Hunter's Brownwood Farm, including accomplished half sisters Keertana and Snow Top Mountain. Consigned by Four Star Sales, Keertana, by Johar , and Snow Top Mountain, by Najran, are both multiple graded stakes winners who placed in grade I races.
With an additional 299 horses cataloged this year, the sale has been expanded to five days. It will continue through Friday, Jan. 11. The auction will begin at 10 a.m. each day.