The opening session of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale generated some fireworks, but the results were a lot less spectacular than in 2007 when the gross revenue ($109,064,000) and the number of horses sold for $1 million or more apiece (28) established world Thoroughbred auction records for a single sale session. Also last year, Playful Act set a $10.5-million world mark for a broodmare or broodmare prospect, which was eclipsed by Better Than Honour’s $14-million price at the Nov. 2 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November sale.
In comparison, the new reality at Keeneland was pretty dismal and not unexpected based on the grim financial situation in this country and globally. The number of horses sold Nov. 3 in Lexington dropped 23.2% and the gross plummeted 56%. The average price plunged 42.7%, and the median was down 32.1%.
Meanwhile, the buy-back rate soared from 19.2% last year to 38.2% this year. There were only 11 horses that brought seven-figure prices, and the peak amount was just $3 million.
“Last year we had a session that was unique unto itself, and this year we had no expectations that we were going to be close to it,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “Is it the economy or the catalog? I think both. There were certain horses today that I thought could have gone further, but they didn’t. Both factors came in to play.”
The 149 horses sold grossed $48,021,000 and averaged $322,389. The median was $185,000.
“Are we doomed? No,” Russell said. “This is a marketplace. All auctions are marketplaces. People come to trade horses. Every so often it’s a boom market and every so often it’s not. Life will continue on. We will trade horses successfully for the next two weeks. Will we be at the level that we’ve had in the past? Most likely not. But people will buy and sell horses. We’ll all have a job, but it might not be as much fun as you’ve had in the past.”
The first-session highlight this year was Hystericalady’s $3-million price. Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, was the buyer, outlasting Kentucky-based bloodstock agent Lincoln Collins.
“She’s an outstandingly tough race filly that is still racing sound,” said Ferguson, who made his bids from behind the auction stand in the back of Keeneland’s sale pavilion. “Obviously, we’ve followed her with interest for years. She’s been so consistent and she’s out of a top, top South American mare (Chilean champion Sacramentada, by Northair). She was an obvious candidate. I’ll talk to the boss (Sheikh Mohammed) and see what he says, but it’s unlikely we would race her (as a 6-year-old in 2009).”
Ferguson called the amount he paid for Hystericalady “a fair price,” adding: “Obviously, we’re going through difficult times, but quality should still always sell well. She’s a top race mare.”
Ferguson said Hystericalady probably would remain in this country.
Hystericalady was owned by her trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, Tom Clark of Rancho San Miguel, and George Todaro, who all were at Keeneland to see her sell. Hollendorfer had purchased her for $125,000 from Warrendale Sales, agent, at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling auction. The mare captured 11 of her 23 career races and earned $2,390,556. She scored eight of her victories in added-money events, seven of them graded.
“We’ve very happy, but we’re also very sad to lose her,” said Clark, who was wearing a purple Breeders’ Cup baseball-style cap with Hystericalady’s name on it. “It’s been an incredible experience for all of us, buying her as a yearling and now, four years later, selling her. It’s been my dream always to have a horse like this. I finally got a chance to have one, and that’s why you’re in racing. I got a chance to live my dream. How many people do? So, I feel very, very fortunate. It was a fair price for everybody. She certainly brought well above our reserve.”
Ferguson also picked up the session’s second- and third-highest-priced horses. He paid $2.5 million for Away, who is in foal to Unbridled’s Song and carrying a full sibling to the ill-fated Eight Belles, and he spent $2.3 million for Shadow Cast, who is in foal to Bernardini.
Consigned by Three Chimneys Sales, agent, Away is an 11-year-old stakes-winning daughter of Dixieland Band and is out of the unraced Mr. Prospector mare Be a Prospector, who is a half-sister to the grade III winner and successful stallion Belong to Me (by Danzig). Away’s daughter, Eight Belles, was a grade II winner that broke down and had to be euthanized after finishing second to Big Brown in this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
“Away is a beautiful mare,” Ferguson said. “Her first two foals both had ability. Her first foal, called Escape Route, we have in Europe. Her second foal obviously was Eight Belles, who everybody knows for tragic reasons. The mare has proven she can produce a world-class performer. She comes from a great pedigree, the family of Belong to Me—it’s a very well known pedigree—and she’s an outstanding individual. We expect her to be a very exciting addition to the farm.”
Escape Route, a winning gelded son of Elusive Quality, races for Princess Haya of Jordan, who is married to Sheikh Mohammed. Richard O’Gorman, as agent, purchased Escape Route for $170,000 at the 2005 Keeneland September yearling sale from Three Chimneys.
Following Eight Belles’ Derby breakdown, some people criticized her genetic makeup, saying it predisposed her to tragedy. But Ferguson didn’t agree with that theory and indicated that he had no qualms about buying her dam.
“At the end of the day, Eight Belles was a tragedy and something everybody in the business hates to see,” Ferguson said. “I don’t adhere to the fact that it was anything to do with that pedigree; it was just a tragedy. Unbridled’s Song was a very talented racehorse, and he breeds talented horses. I don’t think one should necessarily blame any (genetic) factors for what happened that day. It was a very, very sad event.”
The 7-year-old Shadow Cast (by Smart Strike) produced a filly by A.P. Indyin 2007 and a colt by Storm Catin 2008. Ferguson purchased the A.P. Indy filly for $1 million at this year’s Keeneland September yearling sale.
“She’s a beautiful mare,” said Ferguson of Shadow Cast. “We bought the A.P. Indy filly out of the mare in September. We gave a million dollars for her, and she’s a very athletic filly. The mare has got a great record, and she’s a grade I winner from a good family. That was about the price we expected to pay.”
Consigned by Will Farish’s Lane’s End, agent, Shadow Cast is out of the unraced Dayjur mare Daily Special. In 2005, Shadow Cast scored in the Personal Ensign Stakes (gr. I), Louisville Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. II), and Bayou Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT). She also won the 2004 Silverbulletday (gr. II) and Pago Hop Stakes.
Ferguson was the first session’s biggest spender, paying $8,710,000 for six horses. Katsumi Yoshida of Japan ranked second, spending $3.2 million for three head.
A filly from the first crop of 2006’s champion 3-year-old male, Bernardini, who stands at the Kentucky division of Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operation, was the opening day’s top-priced weanling, bringing $1,475,000 from Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales. He signed the sale ticket in the name of Chesapeake Partners.
Consigned by John Sikura’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency, agent, the bay weanling is out of the 7-year-old winning Storm Cat mare Teeming, who is a half-sister to champion and 2007 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Rags to Riches, 2006 Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, and 2008 Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) winner Casino Drive. Their dam, Better Than Honour, brought her $14-million world record price from Mike Moreno’s Southern Equine Stables. Prior to the auction, Southern Equine owned 70% of Better Than Honour, and Sikura owned 30%. They were dispersing their joint holdings, so Better Than Honour went through the sale ring.
“We bought her for a group of Eaton partners, some people who want to buy the best fillies that we can find as foals and yearlings,” said McDonald of the $1,475,000 Bernardini weanling. “I thought she was the best weanling in the sale, and that’s pretty much it. We may see her again at an auction. We may race her. We’re wide open. We have a few new players and some old ones.”
Elaborating further, McDonald added: “I thought physically she was as good as any foal that was in the sale, and of course, we know what the pedigree is. We’ve been watching it all week. You don’t get a chance to buy into that family very often. She’s bred just like some very good horses. I don’t know if you saw her, but she’s a lovely filly. Every part of her was exactly what we were looking for. We decided that if we were going to buy one her, this would be her. That (the world record price for Better Than Honour) didn’t affect us (in determining how much to pay for the weanling), but it made us feel better.”
The Keeneland November sale runs for 15 days, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. (EST).