The Keeneland January horses of all ages auction ends with a sale-record median.

The Keeneland January horses of all ages auction ends with a sale-record median.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Median Sets Record

The Keeneland January horses of all ages auction posted a sale-record median.

The Keeneland January horses of all ages auction generated a sale-record median price of $17,000 during its seven-day run in Lexington, and its average price increased 20.6% from 2007. The gross revenue suffered only a 3.3% setback even though the number of horses sold plunged 19.6%.

"We are very pleased with the results," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "It was a continuation of what we saw in November (during Keeneland's breeding stock auction). The quality mares sold very, very well, but there was a weakness below that. The sale still has a strong international feel; buyers from all over the world were here, so that's always a positive."

But even though some of the key statistics compared favorably to 2007, Russell took the opportunity to address the overall health of the Thoroughbred marketplace, which he thinks is worse than the numbers of Keeneland's most recent auction indicate.

"We’ve got too many horses in the commercial marketplace," Russell said. "I think the success of 2007 was the weakness of our dollar. Without that, we would have had a major correction. One only need look at the recent downturn in European sales, which did not have the benefit of the favorable exchange rate. It will happen here, too, unless breeders make some hard decisions.”

Using North American yearling sales as a barometer of market health, Russell cited disturbing trends that should be red flags for breeders based on statistics complied by The Blood-Horse. Last  year, 57.8% of all yearlings sold for $20,000 or less and 43.4% sold for $10,000 or less. According to Russell, Keeneland yearling figures bettered the national results – 34.% sold for $20,000 or less and 21.1%  for $10,000 or less. But, Russell said, the numbers still are disturbing because it generally takes a minimum of $20,000 in expenses (excluding stud fees) to get a horse to a yearling sale.

Russell also pointed to significant increases in Keeneland’s annual sale days (27 in 2002 versus 39 in 2007) and the size of its September yearling sale catalog (an increase of 1,200 yearlings since 2002) as indicators of serious overproduction of the commercial market.

“Our sales have expanded dramatically over the past five years, yet the size of the North American foal crop (37,900 in 2001 versus 37,300 in 2006) has remained virtually the same,” Russell said. “That shows there are too many non-commercial horses being offered. We get questions about the number of days and number of horses we now catalog, but as Keeneland is the marketing arm of the industry, it is our role to catalog what we are offered. We raise the issue of overproduction out of concern for the long-term profitability of our commercial breeder clients.”

In addition to the record median, which was up 12.3% from 2007 and shattered the former mark of $16,000 set in 2006, the final figures for the 2008 January auction were 1,493 horses sold, a gross of $70,446,000 and an average of $47,184. Last year, the 1,858 horses sold grossed $72,698,200, with both statistics reaching all-time highs for the sale. The average was $39,128.

The median rose 12.7% from 2007 while shattering the former mark of $16,000 set in 2006. The buy-back rate increased from 22.8% last year to 24.0% this year.

Not included in the 2007 figures were four stallion shares that sold for a gross of $170,000.

For the eighth consecutive year, Taylor Made Sales Agency led the January auction's consignors’ list. The 128 horses it sold in 2008 grossed $6,221,400. Southern Equine Stables was the sale's biggest spender, purchasing 10 horses for $3,862,000, including the $2.7-million sale topper, Irish Cherry, a 14-year-old grade I-producing mare that was in foal to Ghostzapper.

Irish Cherry and three other horses brought seven-figure prices, the most at the January auction since 2000, when six were sold.

During the final session Sunday, 153 horses were sold for a gross of $1,017,800. The average price was $6,652, and the median price was $3,500. The buy-back rate was 26.4%.

Comarillo, a stakes-placed 4-year-old filly by Deputy Commander, brought the highest price on Sunday, going to Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm for $47,000. Sold as a broodmare prospect, Comarillo has won three times and is out of the grade III-winning Crafty Prospector mare Amarillo. Comarillo was consigned by Tommy Eastham and Mark Toothaker's Legacy Bloodstock, agent.

The January sale marked the first time Keeneland offered buyers the chance to have testing conducted to detect exogenous anabolic steroids in horses. Under the policy, buyers can request testing of their weanling and yearling purchases. Only one request was made during the sale.