Horses arrive for Keeneland's January horses of all ages sale.

Horses arrive for Keeneland's January horses of all ages sale.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland January Sale Faces Tough Times

The Thoroughbred marketplace ended 2008 with dramatic declines, and all signs point to more tough times ahead as Keeneland gets ready to open its 2009 selling season with its January horses of all ages auction in Lexington. The recent Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. winter mixed sale in Florida suffered downturns of 57.7% in gross revenue and 39.6% in average price while the median price dropped 45.5%.

According to Kerry Cauthen of Four Star Sales, consignors are bracing themselves for more bad news during the six days of selling at Keeneland that begin Jan. 12.

“I can’t imagine that things will be improved any from November,” said Cauthen, referring to the 45.5% decline in gross during Keeneland’s breeding stock sale. “If anything, in January, we lack some of the higher end horses that might have gotten buyers excited. We’ve had a number of scratches already because people have said, ‘It’s just not going to work for me.’ The horses that remain are here to be sold. Their owners have resigned themselves to moving on, and they know what to expect. The writing is on the wall.”

While many of the 2,379 horses that have been cataloged are in the January auction because they haven’t performed up to their owners’ expectations, there are a handful of highly desirable offerings headed by 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri (Hip No. 301), who is in foal to 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and grade I winner Island Fashion (Hip No. 90), who also is in foal to Ghostzapper.

“We go into the sale knowing there is a major change in the economic situation worldwide, but we’re also hopeful that people realize the great opportunity that is in front of them,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “You can buy horses now and, with the production costs down over the next couple of years, you’ll be sitting in a very good position when the market turns around. Our sale is headed by the likes of Azeri and Island Fashion, and there a lot of very nice mid-range broodmare prospects. There is good quality all the way through.”

There’s also a little bit of  the unusual to intrigue buyers as Keeneland will offer the first Palomino Thoroughbred in its history, as far as Russell can determine, when the 2-year-old filly Splash of Vanilla (Hip No. 2176) goes through the sale ring on the auction’s final day. Scheduled to be offered during the sale’s next-to-last session is a white yearling colt named White Prince (Hip No. 1832).

Last year’s Keeneland January auction generated a sale-record median of $17,000 while the average price of $47,185 rose 20.6% from 2007. Meanwhile, the gross revenue of $70,446,000 fell only 3.1% from the auction’s all-time high of $72,698,200 the previous year even though the number of lots sold decreased 19.6% to 1,493.

All sessions for this year’s January sale begin at 10 a.m. EDT.