Tom Thornbury, Keeneland's associate director of sales.

Tom Thornbury, Keeneland's associate director of sales.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Jan. Sale Could Be 'Pretty Decent'

Consignors hoping market will stabilize after big drops in 2009.

Breeders and consignors saw a little light at the end of a long, dark financial tunnel during last November’s Keeneland breeding stock sale, and they’re hoping the glimmer will get a little brighter during Keeneland’s January horses of all ages sale. The 2010 edition of the auction begins Jan. 11 and runs through Jan. 15 in Lexington.

“I thought in November people had more orders and they were working the sale a little bit more; there was a little more enthusiasm,” said David Hager of Idle Hour Farm in Central Kentucky. “The prices weren’t where they were (before 2008’s stock market crash), but they were better than they had been. I think the January sale is going to be pretty decent.”

The Keeneland November auction, after suffering steep declines in 2008, stabilized its median at $20,000 last year. Its gross revenue of $159,727,800 was down 13.9%, an improvement from 2008’s 45.5% drop. And the average price of $57,477 fell 6.5%, an improvement from the previous year’s 39% downturn. In addition, the buy-back rate declined to 21.6% from 27.9% in 2008.

In 2009, the January sale's gross plunged 53.4% to $32,824,000 while the average plummeted 48% to $24,532. The median fell 44.1% to $9,500.

“I think it’s going to be the same as in November,” said Francis Vanlangendonck of Florida-based Summerfield. “The good babies (short yearlings) are going to sell well, and the good mares are going to sell well. The rest of the market is going to get its butt kicked.”

The January sale has a couple of challenges to overcome this year in addition to the recession-battered American economy, which remains weak. Snow and frigid temperatures the weekend before the auction made it more difficult for prospective buyers to inspect horses, and some shoppers had trouble getting to Kentucky because of bad weather elsewhere. In addition, many horses have been scratched from the auction. The 102 first session withdrawals as of Jan. 10 represented 27.8% of the 367 lots cataloged for the opening day. Some of the top prospects were scratched, including a yearling filly by 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper  out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri and an Afleet Alex  yearling half-brother to grade I winner and Eclipse Award finalist Lookin At Lucky.

There were a variety of reasons why horses were withdrawn, according to Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency.

“A lot of people put horses in the January sale just to cover their bases because they don’t know what their cash flow situation is going to be,” Taylor said. “Sometimes if a mare has a promising horse on the track, they’ll enter the mare, but if the horse doesn’t do enough by sale time for the mare to really bring the big bucks, they scratch her. The (yearling Vindication) filly out of Glasgow’s Gold, the dam of (grade I winner) Swift Temper, came up with a chip that needed to be taken out, so he was scratched, but he’ll be back for the Keeneland September (yearling) sale.”

Idle Hour’s Hager and other consignors reported that shoppers at Keeneland the weekend before the January sale’s start were especially enthusiastic about “short” yearlings. While much of the Thoroughbred business struggled in 2009, weanling-to-yearling pinhookers enjoyed an upswing in their financial fortunes. They were eager to buy at the November auction and that enthusiasm is expected to continue in the New Year.

“My mares aren’t being shown at all,” said Hager the morning of Jan. 9, “but my babies (short yearlings) are out all the time.”

Keeneland associate director of sales Tom Thornbury said the demand for young horses “is really the pull in the market right now. The market was so screaming hot in November that it’s got to carry over in January. We actually left the door open a little bit longer to allow more entry of short yearlings and everybody took advantage of it. You’ll see quite a few outs because some horses came up with little X-ray issues, but I still think yearlings are going to be the mainstay of the market in January.”

Lincoln Collins, a bloodstock agent who is a director of Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, was inspecting some horses for foreign clients. He believes European shoppers will help boost the January market because it was difficult for them to buy horses at their own 2009 breeding stock sales, which turned in stronger performances than similar auctions in this country.

“I imagine anything that appeals to Europeans will probably sell reasonably well,” Collins said. “The sales in Europe were relatively strong, so they (European buyers) might think they’ll be able to get good value over here. I can tell you, based on my personal experience, that it was very hard to buy something you wanted to buy in Europe last year.”

Whatever happens, people shouldn’t read too much into the January sale’s results, according to Denali Stud’s Craig Bandoroff. “I don’t think this sale can be much of a gauge of anything,” the Kentucky-based consignor said. “The catalog is light in quality -- several good mares that were in here are out -- and I’ve never thought the January sale was much of a barometer, anyway. Trade will occur, and people will move horses, but it you can’t really look at it as much more than that.”

The Keeneland January auction will begin each day at 10 a.m. (EST).