Keeneland's 12-day November breeding stock auction opened Nov. 2 in Lexington with gains across the board and a $2.2 million session-topper in three-time grade I winner Hard Not to Like, who sold to Tom Ryan's DATTT Farm.
Monday's opening session, the first of two Book 1 days, saw 136 horses sold for $45,094,000, an increase of 8.9% from last year's total for 135 horses from a smaller overall catalog; the opening session this year cataloged 245 horses, compared with 209 on the opening day of last year's 11-day sale. Outs were higher this year at 51 as compared with 28 in 2014.
Average and median price also improved in 2015 by 8.1% and 19.1%, respectively. The session average was $331,574, up from $306,652 in 2014. Median was $202,500, improving on last year's $170,000.
But buybacks also crept upward, advancing from 25.4% to 30%.
"I thought it was very good," said Keeneland's director of sales Geoffrey Russell. "It was very consistent to last year. We had seven million-dollar horses last year, and we had seven million-dollar horses today. While we only had one over $2 million this year and we had three last year, the next level of the market obviously helped dramatically, because the median and average were up considerably."
Reacting to the higher buyback rate, Russell said: "At this level of the market, there's emotional attachment to these horses. And they're hard to replace. If I sell it and I want to own a broodmare, where am I going to find it?"
Russell identified the $400,000-and-up range as Monday's strongest market and cited normal year-to-year fluctuations in breeding stock catalogs as the potential reason that this year's opening session saw fewer lots sell for $2 million or more.
The sale began just two days after Keeneland concluded its first Breeders' Cup World Championship weekend.
"The Breeders' Cup has always enhanced the November sale when it's in Central Kentucky, so when we agreed to have the Breeders' Cup we hoped that it was going to enhance this. We saw it yesterday with people on the grounds. We were very busy yesterday both for day one and day two, and the comments we received from some agents is that they've seen people on the grounds that they normally don't see."
Taylor Made Sales consigned the session-topper and also led all consignors by gross after selling 35 horses for $12,810,000 and an average price of $366,000; Bedouin Bloodstock led sellers by average (three or more sold) with a trio of horses averaging $696,667. DATTT Farm was the leading buyer by gross with its one purchase: Hard Not to Like.
Hard Not to Like, an Ontario-bred, last went through the auction ring at this sale last year, bringing $1.5 million. She was already a grade I winner due to her half-length win in the 2014 Jenny Wiley (gr. IT). Since her sale last November, she went on to win the 2015 Gamely Stakes (gr. IT) and then scored a course record-setting victory in Saratoga's Diana Stakes (gr. IT) for new owners Speedway Stables' Peter Fluor, and K. C. Weiner, who owns the Texas Crude oil company. Fluor's father, Bob, co-owned champion and good sire Alleged along with Robert Sangster and Shirley Taylor.
Hard Not to Like arrived in the auction ring with $1,261,921 in earnings, and her buyer apparently isn't ruling out sending the 6-year-old Hard Spun mare back to the races one more time.
Ryan himself did not remark on the purchase, but Denali Stud manager Gary Bush, who was seated next to Ryan for the bidding and signed the ticket, said, "We're looking for a nice filly to add to our broodmare band. She may race one more time, and we'll just see how it goes."
Bush said Ryan currently has about a dozen mares at Denali, the Paris, Ky., farm owned by Craig and Holly Bandoroff. DATTT Farm has been active at the top of the broodmare market in recent years and last year paid $3 million for the dual graded winner Wine Princess, a daughter of Ghostzapper and 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, in foal to War Front .
Hard Not to Like might have looked like a relative bargain, but Bush conceded her price was still a lot of money, even in a market where high-end buyers are keeping a tight rein on their spending.
"The top, it's still tough," he said. "You've got to pay a lot of money for those. Nobody wants to pay that. But that's where it is. It's the top, and that's where we're shopping."
Agent Reynolds Bell, representing Jon Clay's Alpha Delta Stables, was similarly philosophical about spending $1.6 million for graded winner Colonial Flag, a three-quarters sister to 2010 Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf (gr. IT) winner Shared Account.
"She's a quality mare, and quality mares bring about what you expect," said Bell.
Colonial Flag sold in foal to Tapit and will return to consignor Lane's End, but this time as part of Clay's broodmare band, which numbers about 15 and is split between Lane's End near Versailles, Ky., and Mill Ridge Farm near Lexington.
"He's a commercial breeder, and he races out of them some, too," Bell said of Clay. "She fit what he was looking for."
Goncalo Torrealba of Three Chimneys Farm got an insider's look at 2015 longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) second Shook Up before buying her Monday afternoon for $1.65 million.
The 3-year-old Tapit broodmare prospect prepped for sale at Three Chimneys, which also consigned her as part of the Regis Farms dispersal. The gray mare had been favored in her last start, the June 6 Acorn Stakes (gr. I) but was eased and then vanned off after stumbling and being jostled during the race. She was later treated for a skin injury to her right front fetlock and a wound that penetrated a tendon sheath, and she came into Keeneland's auction ring sporting a white bandage on her right front leg.
"She was badly hurt during the Acorn, and that kind of ended her racing career," Torrealba said. "But since we got her at the farm for prep it's only getting better. She's a lovely mare.
"We didn't think we could afford her, so we're happy that we could."
Tapit was Monday's leading sire and covering sire, both by gross sales and by average (three or more sold). His seven progeny grossed $3,890,000 and averaged $555,714. His three mares in foal sold for a combined $3,550,000, resulting in a $1,183,333 average. War Front was right behind him in covering sire average, with three in-foal mares averaging $933,333.
English agent Hugo Merry, representing Prince Faisal's Nawara Stud in Warwickshire, England, also went to $1.65 million for Canadian champion Spring in the Air, a 5-year-old Spring At Last mare now carrying a War Front foal. Taylor Made Sales was the consignor.
"These War Front coverings are very popular at the moment, obviously," Merry said. "He had a great weekend. It's all about timing."
Merry noted that, in addition to Hit It a Bomb 's victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) at Keeneland over the weekend, another War Front son, Coolmore's Air Force Blue also has attracted notice in Ireland and England by scoring three consecutive group I wins in the Keeneland Phoenix Stakes and the Goffs Vincent O'Brien National Stakes at the Curragh and, most recently, the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 10.
"He's just very hot at the moment," Merry said of War Front. "So, hopefully, the War Front, when he sells, it will recoup a lot of the money."
Of the overall November market for broodmare prospects, both at Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland, Merry said, "It looks a bit thin at the moment, but it comes back to pedigree. If you look, the depth of pedigree isn't there anymore in the catalog, and everyone's just relying on trying to get an awful lot of money for a good racemare with no pedigree. The chosen few with the really nice pedigrees that have performance made a lot of money."
If British and European buyers are wary of U. S. broodmares and broodmare prospects because of America's relatively liberal medication policies, Merry isn't one of them.
"I've bought a lot of very good horses in America, probably David Junior being the best," Merry said. "He won about $5 million and sold to Japan for a lot of money, multiple group I winner. There's never been a year that I haven't bought good horses here. And we've been buying horses to leave here for American owners in the last couple of years that have run very well. We don't see a lot of vet bills when they go into the trainers. So I don't know. I think there's a lot of hype. Look at how well War Front is doing in Europe, and they're all bred here."
Late in the session, Bryant Prentice, seated with agent James Delahooke, paid $1.375 million for grade I winner and group I-placed Sunset Glow, by Exchange Rate. Taylor Made Sales also consigned that filly, a 3-year-old out of the stakes-placed Dynaformer mare Perfectforthepart.
Prentice noted that Dynaformer on the bottom side of the pedigree was a draw and called the price "very fair."
"I think the market is a little softer than it has been the last year or two," he said. "I think you can find value if you're patient."
Monday's opener at Keeneland also saw the return of some big buyers from Sunday's one-session November sale across town at Fasig-Tipton. A day after buying the grade I-winning broodmare prospect Molly Morgan for $1.35 million from Marty Takacs's Belvedere Farm consignment at the Fasig-Tipton November auction, Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings paid $1.5 million at Keeneland for the Select Sales agency's Comedy, the 11-year-old dam of 2015 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (gr. I) third Taris and stakes winner Theatre Star.
The Theatrical (Ire) mare was cataloged in foal to ever-popular Tapit. And Katsumi Yoshida, who spent $4,560,000 for Sugar Shock, Sweet Reason, and Condo Commando at Fasig-Tipton, came to Keeneland the next morning to buy 2014 Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) winner Don't Tell Sophia, in foal to Medaglia d'Oro , for $1.2 million from Phil Sims's Spring Trace Farm consignment.
Bridlewood Farm, which last year paid a North American record auction price of $3 million for a weanling, led buyers by average at Monday's 2015 opening session. The Florida-based operation owned by John Malone bought three horses for $1,950,000 on Monday for a $650,000 average purchase price. The most expensive was Lane's End-consigned broodmare Embur's Song, a multiple graded winner by Unbridled's Song carrying a More Than Ready foal. Bridlewood paid $900,000 for her.
The opening session's top-priced weanling was a $475,000 Medaglia d'Oro colt, the first foal out of grade I winner Emma's Encore. Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud bought the bay Feb. 8 foal from Lane's End's consignment. He's from the family of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner Barbaro.
Keeneland's November breeding stock sale's final Book 1 session is set to begin on Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET in the sale pavilion. For the remainder of the auction, which runs through Nov. 13, sessions will begin at 10 a.m.