Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland January Sale Kicks Off 2012

The year's first major Thoroughbred auction follows an upbeat year in 2011.

Looking back to 2011 and ahead to this year’s first major Thoroughbred auction, the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale, Geoffrey Russell said he was expecting more of the same. And that’s a good thing for Keeneland’s director of sales and everybody else because, lately, a lot of the news has been encouraging.

After four consecutive years in which the prevailing trend was a downward spiral, North America’s Thoroughbred auction industry rebounded significantly in 2011. The combined average price for the four major categories of sale horses–weanlings, yearlings, 2-year-olds, and broodmares–rose 26.9% to $52,589. In addition, the combined gross revenue grew, increasing 20.9% to $722,313,612.

The January sale will be trying to extend the rally during its four-day run that starts Jan. 9 in Lexington. There are 1,594 lots in the auction’s catalog. The number is down 12.8% from 2011’s total of 1,827. Russell said the decline reflects the industry trends of more mares being taken out of production and smaller foal crops. Those are positive developments, he explained, because the supply of sale horses already was outstripping demand when America suffered a catastrophic economic downturn several years ago and financial trouble spread around the world.

“Confidence began building again in the marketplace in September 2010, and the supply and demand issue has been the most important aspect of the recovery process,” Russell said. “Breeders have done a very good job in reducing the number of horses they are offering at the sales. The non-commercial horses are slowly being taken out of the marketplace, which is very good for our industry.”

Because of its location on the auction calendar and the way it was designed, the January sale doesn’t have the prestige of Keeneland’s larger and fancier November breeding stock auction. The January sale was created primarily to serve consignors who have to sell horses unexpectedly as the result of an owner’s death, racetrack injuries late in the season, or a sudden need for money.

While those conditions limit the number of top horses, the January auction still is able to generate excitement. Last year the top price reached $1.4 million when Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm of Japan purchased 2010 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. IT) winner Ave. Wickedly Perfect, who captured the 2010 Darley Alcibiades Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland, commanded $800,000 from Katsumi Yoshida of Japan’s Northern Farm.

Ave and Wickedly Perfect both were offered as a racing or broodmare prospects by Three Chimneys Sales, agent.

The January auction’s 2010 edition also was notable because three-year declines in number sold and gross revenue ended and so did a two-year slump in the average price. The number sold rose 3.9% to 1,020 while the gross increased 5.7% to $25,246,850. The average advanced 1.6% to $24,752.

The median declined 6.3% to $7,500 while the buy-back/no bid rate rose to 27.4% from 27% in 2010.

Russell expressed optimism that this year’s edition of the January auction also will show signs of strength.

“Just looking through the catalogs from last year and this year, they are very similar in terms of the quality of horses,” he said. “I think the short yearlings will be strong and the race mares will be very popular. There are quite a few nice updates in the production records of some broodmares, which also will help.

“A lot of weanling to yearling pinhookers didn’t fill all their orders in November, so we hope they’ll show up to buy the short yearlings,” Russell continued. “We look for our normal buyers to be here to buy the mares and broodmare prospects. When the November sale is good (as it was in 2011 when its average grew by more than 60%), the January sale usually picks up that momentum.  People have been more willing to spend money on quality stock recently, and I don’t see any reason to believe that anything much has changed between November and now.”
Each of session of the January auction will begin at 10 a.m. (EST).