Keeneland's January sale, which runs Jan. 12-15 this year and features 2010 champion Blind Luck, could look similar to last year's edition, right down to the wintry weather.
Cold weather is in the forecast again this year (though probably not at 2014's extreme polar vortex levels), but sale executives and consignors are hoping the market will continue the recent warming trend in demand for quality breeding stock and young horses.
Keeneland's November breeding stock sale last fall ended 11 days of selling with a record-equaling median of $35,000, a 2% higher average price at $81,966, and the auction's second-highest gross ever: $205,899,500 for 2,512 horses.
But consignors were quick to point out that the top of the market was producing the most bullish results. They described a highly selective group of buyers who were willing to pay a premium for horses they believed to be the highest quality at any given session, but who would not hesitate to walk away from (or discount heavily) anything less than that.
Expectations are similar for the 2015 January sale.
"January is just a continuation of the market that has already been established, and hopefully it will continue on from the November sale, which was a continuation of the September [yearling] sale," said Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell. "That would be great. There are some nice, quality lots which I think will attract attention from people and do very, very well. In general, the market will take care of the rest."
This year's 1,610-horse catalog (just slightly larger than last season's 1,590 horses) does feature some notable mares, chief among them 2010's champion 3-year-old filly and Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Blind Luck, now age 8 and not currently in foal, according to her catalog page. She sells on Jan. 12 as hip 207 in the Hill 'n' Dale consignment.
Other eye-catchers include a pair of Galileo mares in foal to the popular sire War Front. Up sells through the Four Star Sales agency; she's a group winner who also placed in the French One Thousand Guineas (Fr-I), and her half brother is dual group I winner and sire Dutch Art. Twirl, another Hill 'n' Dale consignee, is a full sister to French and Irish highweight and classic winner Misty For Me, who finished third in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT). Both Twirl and Up are 6, and they go through the ring Jan. 12 and 13, respectively.
The yearling War Front filly out of Up also sells as hip 538 on Jan. 13. Among the high-earning and graded-performing mares is Foxy Danseur, a 10-year-old Mr. Greeley mare now in foal to 2014 leading sire Tapit. She's hip 285 in the Taylor Made agency's consignment.
And there almost certainly will be lively trade for the numerous six-figure-earning broodmare prospects exiting the racetrack via Keeneland's auction ring.
"The January sale always seems to have more broodmare prospects than November does and the good, middle-market broodmare prospect seems to sell very well in January," said Russell.
Other pedigree pages worth noting include those of hip 445, a Greatness yearling who is a half sister to grade I winner Egg Drop; and hip 508, a Giant's Causeway yearling half sister to grade I winner Rail Trip, among others. Look for prices to remain strong for standout short yearlings after last year's bullish figures for well-bred, well-conformed weanlings.
"The weanling market was very good in November, and in conversations with some of the buyers after the November sale, they said they hadn't fulfilled all their orders, so I hope they'll be out here fulfilling the rest of their orders," Russell said.
If you're looking for some tea leaves to read, here's one potentially positive sign: The people who process credit applications at Keeneland had enough applications in the hopper to start their work a day earlier than usual this year, according to Russell. Whether or not that pile of credit applications translates into more bidders remains to be seen, but, in any case, Russell saw good reason for optimism about the market coming out of recent November sales.
"I was very encouraged both in November '13 and November '14 to see the domestic market getting involved in long-term investment, i.e., buying mares," he said. "I'm glad that's happened and hope it continues. I think it comes back to having some stability in the market at the September sale. People know they can buy horses and put the produce through the market and get a good return on their investment."
With no major dispersals in the catalog this year, the 2015 price ceiling might not reach 2013's levels, when the $1.45 million yearling filly Bijou, one of three seven-figure horses that year, topped the sale. But last year's January auction took place without a major dispersal, either, and still saw a $775,000 topper: Mucho Macho Man's dam Ponche de Leona, who sold to Brushwood Stable while carrying a Distorted Humor colt. Two other mares, Life Happened and Sweeter Still, each brought $750,000 last year amid lively bidding from a fairly wide array of mostly domestic buyers.
"This is more of a domestic market, but we always seem to have a good representation from Japan to show up for this sale," Russell noted. "It's so close to the start of the breeding season that it doesn't suit some of the international market, so it has become more of a domestic sale. But the domestic market is doing very well."