November Sale Coverage From the Magazine: Predictable Downturn

The Keeneland November breeding stock sale used to be one of the Thoroughbred marketplace's strongest performers. Two years ago, the auction established a world record for gross revenue and sold more horses than ever before. Last year, it offered the largest catalogue in its history, set a new November standard for average price, and erased all existing Keeneland marks for single session gross and the number of horses sold for seven-figure prices.

But those days of glory are over now. The latest edition of the November sale will not be remembered for its dazzling statistics. Instead, it will stand out because it was conducted under such trying circumstances.

First, Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome and falling prices for weanlings in 2000 slashed its numbers and the quality of its horses. Then terrorism and war spooked its buyers and consignors while helping shove an already struggling American economy into recession. Given all the setbacks, the downward trends for 2001 were predictable.

During the first seven days of the Central Kentucky auction, which began on Monday, Nov. 5, Keeneland reported that 1,559 horses were sold for $168,762,800, an average of $108,251. The buy-back rate was 26.3%. Compared to the same Monday through Sunday period in 2000, the number sold declined by only 5.8%, but the gross and average plunged by 33.4% and 29.3%, respectively.

Eighteen horses this year sold for seven-figure amounts, a sharp decline from last year's total of 39. The high price of $4 million was significantly below the 2000 peak of $4.9 million.

"I don't think anybody is too terribly upset so far about this sale," said consignor Nina Hahn of Lochness. "Everybody is prepared for a down market. Everybody is still going on. And nobody is panic-stricken--at least not yet."

But some sellers apparently were a little nervous. During the first two days of the auction, they scratched more than 20% of the horses catalogued. Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, said the rate was higher than usual for a mixed sale. He thought the uncertain economic climate might be to blame. Duncan Taylor of the Taylor Made Sales Agency agreed.

"It's like people holding on to their stocks when they don't like what they're valued at," he explained. "In the back of their minds they are thinking: 'This is not a good time to sell. I wouldn't want to buy a horse now, so I am just going to hold on to mine. I really don't want to run it through there and pay a commission.' "

There were a few pleasant surprises for consignors who hung tough and kept their horses in the auction. But for many sellers, the final bids for their best stock were disappointing.

Team Valor's Barry Irwin was hoping for more than $2 million when Golden Ballet stepped into the sale ring on Nov. 6. Owned by Team Valor and Heiligbrodt Racing Stable, the chestnut filly had two grade I wins to her credit and an impressive physique, making her one of the auction's top broodmare prospects. Even so, not enough people wanted her badly enough to push her price beyond $1.6 million.

"We're not complaining; we did fine," Irwin said. "But it would have been nice if she had brought more. Unfortunately, this has been a tough year for breeders. They've had a couple of big blows, and they don't have any confidence right now."

The auction was scheduled to complete its 11-day run on Nov. 15. Last year's sale was a record 14 sessions long, and it began on a Sunday with four dispersals that grossed $28,095,100. Ten stallion seasons also sold for a total of $2.5 million. There was no comparable session in 2001.

Youth Movement
Buyers were often scarce at Keeneland this year, and they were more tentative than aggressive in their bidding. Only a handful of horses out of the hundreds offered each day inspired them to greater boldness. Those horses were usually young in-foal mares or broodmare prospects that had been successful runners.

Twelve of the 18 horses that brought prices of $1 million or more were in-foal mares. All in that group were under the age of 12 except for the $2.6-million Cee's Song, the 15-year-old dam of two-time Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) winner Tiznow. She is carrying a full sibling to the 2000 Horse of the Year. Gerry Dilger of Dromoland Farm near Lexington signed the sale ticket for Cee's Song, but he would not discuss whether the purchase was made for himself or for someone else.

The most expensive in-foal mare was Twenty Eight Carat, who brought the sale-topping price of $4 million from Elizabeth Moran's Brushwood Stable of Pennsylvania (The Blood-Horse of Nov. 10, page 6648). The 11-year-old stakes-placed daughter of Alydar is the dam of 2000 Champagne Stakes (gr. I) winner A P Valentine, who finished second in this year's Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont (gr. I) Stakes. Sold in foal to 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Fusaichi Pegasus, she was consigned by William S. Farish's Lane's End, agent.

Five of the seven-figure horses were racing and/or broodmare prospects. One was a weanling, a $1.5-million daughter of Storm Cat--Better Than Honour. Her price was the second-highest ever for a weanling sold at Keeneland in November.

Newsells Park Stud, which is located in England, bought four horses for seven-figure amounts, including the $2.4-million Volvoreta (by Suave Dancer), who is in foal to Giant's Causeway. Newsells also spent more money by far than any other Keeneland shopper, paying $17,140,000 for 34 head through Nov. 11. Last year at Keeneland, Newsells spent $5,012,000 for 11 horses.

Newsells is owned by Switzerland-based entrepreneur Klaus Jacobs, whose other investments have included coffee, chocolate, and employment services. He was born in Germany. Jacobs' son, Andreas, said Newsells' primary goal is to establish a commercial broodmare band numbering about 60. The farm will focus on selling young horses in England.

Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud near Ocala, Fla., was the only other buyer to purchase more than one horse for $1 million or more. Live Oak's general manager, Bert Mickel, signed the tickets for the $2.2-million Saoirse (by Cure the Blues), a Canadian champion who is in foal to Seeking the Gold, and the $1.6-million Dreams Gallore (by Silver Ghost), a grade I-winning broodmare prospect.

Saoirse is the most expensive horse ever sold by David and Ginger Mullins, who own Doninga Farm near Lexington. They owned the 5-year-old mare in partnership with William Butler and William Steiden. The partners, who had purchased Saoirse privately for $600,000 last year, donated 1% of her Keeneland sale price ($22,000) to the American Red Cross.

"We're over the moon," David Mullins said.

Domestic shoppers acquired 11 of the 18 horses sold for seven-figure prices. They included Kentucky bloodstock agent Reynolds Bell, who represented Richard Santulli and George Prussin's Jayeff B Stable in the $3-million transaction involving Dancing Mahmoud (in foal to Seeking the Gold). The 11-year-old winning daughter of Topsider is the dam of graded winner Guided Tour (by Hansel). The most expensive horse purchased by a foreign buyer was champion Phone Chatter (in foal to Dixie Union), who went to Coolmore Stud managing partner John Magnier for $3.6 million. A 10-year-old daughter of Phone Trick, Phone Chatter is the dam of grade II winner Cat Chat (by Storm Cat).