Anne M. Eberhardt

Consignors Predicting Healthy January Sale

Optimism stems in part from stronger than expected November sales.

Two months after Kentucky's major November breeding stock sales delivered stronger than expected results for many sellers, consignors heading back to Keeneland's auction ring in January are predicting that the market for mares and young stock will remain healthy.

If it does, the autumn mixed sales' results likely will be one reason why, say sellers at Keeneland's January all-ages sale, which takes place in Lexington from Jan. 6-9, 2014. Many expect that bidders outgunned this fall in bull markets from Lexington to Newmarket, England will still be seeking broodmares and short yearlings to fill their inventory.

And as the general sale-ring supply continues to dwindle with the North American fall crop, demand at least for now seems to be outpacing the supply of desirable horses.

One sign of the high demand for horses came at Keeneland's November sale, where consignors reported getting unusually good money even for horses selling during the sale's closing days when prices often fall off for all but the very top lots at any given session.

Earlier in the month, Fasig-Tipton's one-night showcase saw a 31.6% upswing in median while Goffs posted significant gains. In December, the Tattersalls and Arqana mixed sales also put up increases, leaving sellers and buyers alike to marvel at the recovery from the post-2008 recession years.

"I was very surprised and happy for the fact that interest was strong from Book 1 through Book 5 at the Keeneland November sale," said Hill 'n' Dale owner John Sikura. "I looked for some specific mares to breed to our stallions, and I found there was competition for all of them. I think we'll see the same thing in January."

The good autumn returns followed successful yearling and 2-year-old seasons, and, looking back on the year's progress, Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell was among those speaking confidently about the first major sale of 2014.

"January has always been a continuation of the November," Russell said. "With the strong breeding stock sales in November and December, we anticipate it will continue. Coming out of November, I saw the most rewarding factor as the fact that people were interested in long-term investment, in mares at all levels of the market, not just the top end. The middle and second-week horses all sold very well. We've heard people say they haven't filled their orders, and we had more requests earlier to find out when the catalog was going online. We take all these things as sign of a more buoyant market."

The 2014 January sale catalog is 16% smaller than last year, with 1,590 horses cataloged versus 1,893 a year ago. While many breeders report that they're keeping their mares in light of the good yearling market, others are actively seeking mares in order to breed, also with an eye toward future yearling sales. Still others, having endured through the downturn, are now more interested in quick action with young stock, notes Steve Watkins of Triad Farm in Paris, Ky., who also expects to see the mixed sale momentum continue into January.

"Some people decide to skip a couple of steps and sell the mare and just go buy a yearling, because you never know what you're going to get out of a mare," he said. "For some people, instead of paying the bills on a mare, they'll take that money and go buy a yearling or even a 2-year-old to get very close to the game immediately."

Buying a yearling appears to be growing more expensive, though. November's weanlings were much in demand, their prices pushed along both by weanling-to-yearling pinhookers who profited from the 2013 yearling sales and by end-users opting to buy younger stock for perhaps less money than they would have to put up for a yearling, juvenile, or broodmare prospect with the same pedigree. When they appear in the January sale as short yearlings, those with attractive pedigrees and good conformation are likely to be popular.

"Foals are expensive," Sikura said. "If the pinhookers go through 50 foals, they'll find two that suit them and those two will bring a premium, but there are a lot that don't meet their scrutiny. The breeders who produce those foals are well paid, and they have to be, because there are a lot of misses along the way.

"If you look at what yearling fillies were bringing at the highest level," he continued, "they were bringing broodmare prices, prices you see for graded stakes-winning broodmares with fantastic families. A lot of people probably have found that they can buy the best-pedigreed filly in America and get her bought, versus struggling to buy the equivalent race mare, who brings $3 million, $4 million, or $5 million."

Consignors like Sikura expect the January sale to follow the general upward trend, though most expect prices overall to be less heady than at the tonier November sales, which generally have deeper catalogs.

"It is January, so it's a little hard to say it definitely will be strong from start to finish, but we hope it will be," Russell said. "It is pretty even. There are some very good horses in there."

"The market is going to be strong for the nice enough horses," concluded Sikura. "Mares they like will still make a lot of money, and if they haven't produced the racehorse or aren't covered, they're going to bring a lot less."

The January catalog usually is lighter on the superstars than the November auctions attract, but this year's catalog features a good supply of head-turning pedigrees. Among the broodmares on offer, for example, are Ponche de Leona (Hip 692) and Golden Works. They are, respectively, the dams of Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Mucho Macho Man  and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I) winner Goldencents  (Hip 563). Ponche de Leona is offered in foal to Distorted Humor , while Golden Works carries a foal by the late sire Harlan's Holiday.

Other notable mares include Unbridled Belle (25), in foal to Bernardini , as well as the dams of such runners as D' Funnybone  (526), Desert Party  (729), Vyjack (36), Coalport (462), Kettle Corn  (764), and Tapizar  (431). Tapizar's three-quarters brother, by Trappe Shot , is cataloged with the short yearlings, as hip 430, and the young stock also features half siblings to Hooh Why (262), Silver Max  (238), and Excellent Meeting (544), among others.

Keeneland's January sale will run Jan. 6-9, with sessions starting daily at 10 a.m. in the Keeneland sale pavilion adjacent to the racetrack.