Anne M. Eberhardt

Young Horses Could Stand Out at Keeneland

Keeneland officials hoping demand is solid for short yearlings in January sale.

Even though the Keeneland January horses of all ages sale is positioned at the start of the calendar year, its results often reflect what happened the previous fall in the commercial marketplace instead of breaking new ground. Most people don’t consider the auction to be a trend-setter or a key barometer of the Thoroughbred auction business’ health.

“The January sale was designed as a vehicle for breeders who may not have sold enough horses the previous year to start the New Year off and get some more sold,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It’s not a sale that sits out on its own; it’s always been considered a kind of continuation of our November breeding stock sale.”

This year’s edition of the auction starts Jan. 11 in Lexington and continues through Jan. 15. If it turns in a performance similar to the 2009 Keeneland November sale’s effort, then the downturn in prices will be less steep than a year ago; there will be signs of stabilization in the market; and the demand for young horses will be solid.

“I thought the foal (weanling) market was very strong in November, stronger than what most people expected,” Russell said. “We have some very nice short yearlings in the January sale, so we hope that will continue on. Hopefully, because of the competiveness of the November sale, some pinhookers haven’t filled all their orders yet and they’ll be eager to buy short yearlings.”

The average price for weanlings sold during the 2009 November auction was $45,103, down 7.1% from 2008, but shoppers said foals were difficult to buy because of intense competition and they also complained there weren’t enough quality offerings. The November results for all horses included a gross of $159,727,800, which was down 13.9%, and an average of $57,477, which was down 6.5%. The median of $20,000 was the same as it was in 2008. The buy-back/no bid rate was 21.6%, down from 27.9%.

“We all anticipated that 2009 was going to be a very difficult year,” Russell said. “But, in some regards, the auction part of the Thoroughbred industry was more resilient than I thought it was going to be and breeders have done a very good job internally addressing some of the problems (including an oversupply of commercial horses). Weanling-to-yearling pinhookers did well, and that was bright spot. We didn’t have a giant rise in the buy-back rate, and I think credit for that goes to the consignors. They evaluated the market very well and trade did continue, but at a lower level.”

There are 1,753 lots in this year’s January catalog. The total is down 26.3% from 2009, when 2,379 lots were listed.

Selling begins at 10 a.m. EDT each day.