The struggling Thoroughbred marketplace stumbled badly yet again as the Keeneland November breeding stock auction opened its 13-day run in Lexington Nov. 10. Even though buyers from Japan, Australia, and France shopped enthusiastically, the gross revenue nosedived 45.2% from a year ago while the average price dropped 35.3%. The median price performed best of all, falling only 13.5%.
“I think the sale was as expected,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It was a very cosmopolitan buyers’ list. We knew there would be strong overseas participation, especially on the mares, which is reflected in the top five prices; there was only one American buyer and the rest were either Australian or Japanese. Their economies have rebounded faster than America’s economy has, and the rate of exchange (for them) is more favorable. Both countries have always admired the American Thoroughbred and what it can do to (help) their own breed.”
The 126 horses that sold grossed $26,291,500 and averaged $208,663. The median was $160,000. In 2008, the 149 horses that sold brought a gross of $48,021,000. The average was $322,289, and the median was $185,000.
On a more positive note, the buy-back rate declined from 38.2% last year to 31.9% this year. However, the number of horses sold for prices of $1 million or more apiece fell from 11 to one.
“That’s a big chunk of the gross,” Russell said. “The overall comments prior to this sale were that there is a lack of horses in the top end. In a recessionary market, that's what happens when people retain horses for their own farms.”
Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, topped the session, bringing $2,250,000. Shunsuke Yoshida, signed the sale ticket for his father, Katsumi Yoshida, who owns Northern Farm in Japan.
“We didn’t expect we could buy this mare,” said Shunsuke Yoshida, who made his offers from behind the auction stand in the rear of Keeneland’s sale pavilion while talking to his father on a cell phone. “We started bidding at $1.7 million, I think. We just kept on bidding within our budget, and finally she came to us. It (the price) was really close to our budget.”
Azeri, who is in foal to Distorted Humor , is an 11-year-old daughter of Jade Hunter out of the Australian stakes-winning mare Zodiac Miss (by Ahonoora). She produced a colt by A.P. Indy (named Take Control) in 2007, a filly by Giant's Causeway in 2008, and a filly by Ghostzapper earlier this year.
“I think we will send her to Japan directly,” Yoshida said. “I like the mare, of course. She’s a beautiful mare, who had really good race results, and she’s a very nice individual.”
Tom Goff of Blandford Bloodstock in England also tried to buy Azeri. He was sitting in the sale pavilion with Simon Marsh, who manages Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's England-based Watership Down Stud. But when asked if Marsh’s presence was a clue to the identity of the client he was representing, Goff replied, “Not necessarily, actually no.” According to the bloodstock agent, his last bid was at $1.6 million.
“She’s a champion mare, and we probably would have been happy to get her for less than the vendor would have liked, but in this (down) market, you’ve got to be there (and try); it’s as simple as that,” Goff said. “She has an A.P. Indy yet to run for her and a Giant’s Causeway and a Ghostzapper, and she is in foal to Distorted Humor. Good luck to them.”
John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consigned Azeri for the Allen E. Paulson Living Trust, which is in the process of liquidating its assets. In January, at Keeneland’s horses all ages sale, Azeri was bought back for $4.4 million when offered by Hill ‘n’ Dale while carrying her Ghostzapper filly. Michael Paulson was in charge of the living trust at the time, but he later was removed as the trustee in a legal proceeding.
Sikura expressed disappointment with Azeri’s price.
“The mare really is a national treasure; she accomplished some really, really unique things,” he said. “I would have liked to have thought that she would have made more in the auction ring, and I would like to have thought that one or more leading North American commercial breeders would have said, ‘We have to have this mare.’ Her sale price is a real reflection on the state of our market today. As horsemen, we are usually eternal optimists. We think, ‘What if?’ We create a great scenario in our minds and that’s the way we move forward. Today, most people are saying, ‘What if it doesn’t work? What if her (Azeri’s) 2-year-old doesn’t run? She has a late (June) cover.’ People are tempering their enthusiasm and their valuations. In anybody’s mind, that mare has to look like an extremely good value. She’s as good as a mare can be, and her 2-year-old has trained very well. It (the price) looks like grand robbery.”
Azeri's 2-year-old son, Take Control (formerly named Vallenzeri), was bought back by Michael Paulson for a world Thoroughbred auction record of $7.7 million at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale when the colt was offered by Hill 'n' Dale. This year, when consigned by Florida pinhooker Eddie Woods, agent, to the Keeneland April juvenile auction, Take Control sold for $1.9 to Kaleem Shah, who was represented at the sale by trainer Bob Baffert. The colt is in training with Baffert, who was inducted into racing's Hall of Fame this past summer.
Swift Temper was the only other horse to attract a seven-figure final bid during the Keeneland November sale’s first session, but she was bought back for $2,050,000 by her owner, Mark Stanley. Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the 5-year-old daughter of Giant's Causeway to the auction for Stanley as a racing or broodmare prospect.
“I guess I got cold feet,” Stanley said. “Taylor Made did a great job presenting her, and Keeneland did a great job getting everybody here, but I just couldn’t let her go when it came time to do it. I might put her in the backyard and just pet her and feed her peppermints. She’s been awful good to us, and she doesn’t owe us anything. We’ll probably breed her (in 2010); it’s something we’ve got to take a little time to decide.”
Produced from the Seeking the Gold mare Glasgow’s Gold and a half-sister to German stakes winner Croisiere (by Capote), Swift Temper scored this year in the Ruffian (gr. I), Delaware (gr. I), and Sixty Sails (gr. III) Handicaps. She also captured the Gardenia Handicap (gr. III) in 2008.
“It just didn’t turn out to be the day to sell her,” Stanley said. “I can’t say I’m completely disappointed. We were going back and forth all week about whether to sell her or not. The bank had a little influence (in the decision to offer Swift Temper at Keeneland), and I’m sure the bank would have liked to have seen her sold. It would have been good to reduce some debt, but our daughter went away to college, so we can’t let both our girls go in the same year. She did, yes (get close to her reserve).”
Said Taylor Made’s Frank Taylor: “She’s a very nice mare from a great family. I wish we had gotten her sold, but she’s just a beautiful mare, and I think she’ll make a producer, so it’s kind of bittersweet. She’s been a great success for Mark; he’s had great luck with her. He just liked her more than the market did. I can understand Mark not selling her; I think she’s the best mare in the sale.”
Katsumi Yoshida was the session’s biggest spender, paying $2,230,000 for three horses. In addition to Azeri, he purchased the session’s second-highest-priced lot, Loves Only Me, an unraced 3-year-old daughter of Storm Cat, for $900,000 and Come Home With Me, an unraced 3-year-old daughter of Came Home, for $80,000.
A half-sister to European champion Rumplestiltskin (by Danehill), Loves Only Me is in foal to Danehill Dancer. Lane’s End, agent, consigned her to the Keeneland auction. Come Home With Me, who is a full sister to grade III winner Passion and a half-sister to grade II winner Kumari Continent (by Kris S.), is in foal to El Prado. Select Sales, agent, was her consignor.
“It’s hard to really to get a handle on the whole thing,” said Taylor Made’s Duncan Taylor of the opening session. “Overall, I still have the feeling that it’s a good time to buy. The market doesn’t seem like it’s terrible, but it’s not real predictable.”