Will the Keeneland November breeding stock sale follow the same trend as the company's September yearling auction, which rebounded strongly after suffering significant downturns at the top? For Michael Hernon, the director of sales for Gainesway, the answer is "not exactly." He predicts the shifts in November prices will be less dramatic.
"There could a mild correction," Hernon said, "but I do see the top younger mares and broodmare prospects still being highly sought after because you have a more diverse group of buyers for them and more options with them than you do for yearlings. I also think you'll see a strong participation from European buyers, who are coming in here with what has become a very significant advantage in the strength of their currency against our weakening dollar."
Like the September sale, the November auction has its largest catalog ever. There are 5,414 horses and one breeding right scheduled to be offered during the 15-day sale, which begins Monday in Lexington and runs through Nov. 19.
So far, the auction year has been marked by a lack of competition between the Thoroughbred industry's most dynamic shopping duo: Coolmore Stud and Sheikh Mohammed. The latter, who has been investing heavily in stallions, reduced his spending for September yearlings this year by more than $40 million.
But at least one consignor, John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, thinks there is an increased possibility that the two titans could tangle during the November auction.
"It's a matter of showing them exactly what they want," Sikura said, "and that's quite a fantastic standard to meet. They have such great mares and so many good foals that in order to get them to buy one of yours, you have to offer them another star. And when you do, I don't think they pay a lot of attention to market averages and corrections. They just bid to own the horses they really want. This year, there weren't one or more yearlings at the top that they decided they really had to have, but I do think we have those kinds of unique horses here at this sale."
Sikura's consignment includes a Pulpit weanling filly out of Madcap Escapade, who brought the $6-million top price for a mare at last year's November auction. Also in the Hill 'n' Dale group are European champion Playful Act (in foal to Kingmambo) and her Giant's Causeway weanling filly, which are part of the dispersal of horses owned by the late Robert Sangster's Swettenham Stud.
Other tempting November offerings include champion Fleet Indian (in foal to Storm Cat) and grade I winner Bushfire, both consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, and grade I winner Spun Sugar (in foal to A.P. Indy), who is consigned by Hidden Brook, which is acting as the agent for a reduction of horses owned by Frank Stronach's Eclipse Award-winning Adena Springs operation.
"I don't think Sheikh Mohammed bought a mare here last year," said Taylor Made's Frank Taylor. "But I've seen his people out looking, and hopefully, that means they are going to be active, which would be helpful at the market's top end. I was surprised at how strong the sale in September came back in the middle market, and that will strengthen the demand for mares in the $200,000 to $600,000 range. But still I think the top-end mares will bring an awful lot of money."
One trend from the recent past many consignors expect to continue is buyer enthusiasm for the young and the beautiful. Last year, only two of the 22 mares that sold for $1 million or more apiece were over the age of 10.
"There will be real strength for the top performing broodmare prospects and the younger broodmares that are well covered (by commercially appealing stallions)," Gainesway's Hernon said. "The market will be softer — and there will be more value to be had — for mares in the 10 to 12 age bracket."
Even though weanling-to-yearling pinhookers didn't fare well financially as a group this year, sellers still are expecting well-bred foals with outstanding conformation to attract big prices
"Most of the investors in our industry now are looking for quick profits; they want to buy and resell," said David Hager of Idle Hour Farm. "The stock market hasn't been very stable lately, so I think people are looking at horses as an alternative. There is plenty of investment money out there. The professional pinhookers have to buy horses if they want to stay in business, but they might not risk as much on horses with conformation and X-ray issues as they did in the past."
Last year, the Keeneland November sale generated the second-highest gross in its history, $313,798,800 and a median price that equaled the auction record of $35,000. The average price of $99,745 was down 3% from the previous year.
Half Ourstopped the sale, bringing $6.1 million and setting a Keeneland record for a horse in training. In addition, a Montjeu -- Elbaaha colt established a North American public auction mark for a weanling of $2.7 million, and a Gone West — Islington filly became the most expensive weanling of her sex ever sold at Keeneland when she brought $2.4 million.
While the fireworks might not be so spectacular this year in November, Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, is anticipating that business will be brisk.
"I don't think we'll be zooming around breaking world records," he said, "but I think the results will be a very solid reflection of the market. The interest level from buyers is there. We’ve sent catalogs out to the four corners of the world more this year than we did last year. It all comes down to the fact that foreign buyers know they can come to Central Kentucky, and especially to Keeneland, to buy quality horses. The weakness of our dollar makes it even more attractive for them."
History shows, much more often than not, that business at Keeneland's November sale follows the trend seen in September for yearlings. In the 20-year period from 1997 through 2006, the average increased in both September and November in 12 years and decreased in both in four.