Keeneland's five-day January mixed sale ended Jan. 15 with losses in average and median in an apparent continuation of 2015's highly selective market.
The auction in Lexington featured a larger catalog this year and sold 1,040 horses for $35,463,000, up less than 1% from last year's gross for 948 horses, but the $34,099 average was down by 8.4%. More noticeably, the $11,000 median was 31.3% lower than last year's $16,000, despite buyers' and sellers' reports of robust numbers for higher-end stock, particularly in Book 1.
Buybacks ended nearly level with last year's figure, at 25% versus 25.2% a year ago.
Keeneland president and chief executive officer Bill Thomason said that despite stock market turmoil the market was maintaining stability as buyers continued to spend, sometimes aggressively for horses they particularly wanted.
"Buyers are spending discretionary income, and so they are extremely selective in making their purchases," he said. "They are also keenly competitive to acquire these top individuals. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, consignors who bring quality horses to market are well rewarded."
Keeneland's director of sales echoed that sentiment but also issued a frank reminder to sellers of the 2008 bloodstock market crash and its lesson about the dangers of oversupply. "Demand remains strong for premium horses, but it's a different story for the less commercial end of the market," he said. "By their selectivity, buyers are sending a clear message that they want quality, commercially viable horses.
"This year, we cataloged an extra day each for our November and January sales, which translates to more than 600 additional horses," Russell added. "Keeneland is here to serve the market, and we work throughout the year, around the world, to provide a marketplace that represents both established and emerging racing markets. But even the emerging markets have developed to the point where buyers seek quality rather than quantity. We as an industry don't want to lose sight of the hard lessons we learned just a few short years ago."
The sale-topper, sold at Monday's opening session, was grade I-placed Summer Solo. Virginia Kraft Payson paid $700,000 for the 5-year-old Arch mare, who was carrying a Ghostzapper foal. Payson also bought Summer Solo's juvenile half sister, the More Than Ready filly Summer Sweet, for the auction's second-highest price of $550,000. Payson also bought one of the sale's two $450,000 short yearlings, an Arch daughter out of Seeking Atlantis; the May 9 foal is a half sister to grade III-placed Seeking Her Glory, by Giant's Causeway.
All of those horses were from the dispersal of the late Sarah Jane Leigh's stock, consigned by Holly and Craig Bandoroff's Denali Stud agency.
Payson led all buyers by total spend and average purchase price with those three horses, which totaled $1.7 million and averaged $566,667.
The other short yearling to bring $450,000 was a May 6 colt by War Front out of Exogenetic that Cromwell Bloodstock, as agent, bought from B. D. Gibbs's Greenfield Farm. The colt was the only War Front yearling in the auction and is a half brother to grade III winner and grade I-placed Super Ninety Nine .
Arch was the sale's leading sire by gross sales and average (three or more sold), with seven horses totaling $1,377,000 and averaging $196,714, and he also was the week's top covering sire by average price (three or more sold) with an average price of $226,667 for his three in-foal mares. Ghostzapper was tops by gross among covering sires with two bringing a combined $1 million.
Taylor Made Sales was the 2016 auction's leading consignor by gross sales with 92 horses selling for $4,359,500, while Braxton and Damian Lynch's Royal Oak Farm led by average price (three or more sold) with a trio of horses averaging $115,667.
At Friday's final session, the last lot through the ring was the $80,000 session-topper. That was the Eric A. Delvalle estate's 2-year-old Uncle Mo colt out of stakes-winner Amor de Palacio (Cashel Castle), offered through the Brandywine agency as a racing or stallion prospect. He hails from the family of graded winners Boomzeeboom and Harlem Rocker. Eico Ventures was the buyer.
Strapping Groom, the 2013 Forego Stakes (gr. I) winner, brought the second-highest price of $75,000 as a stallion prospect. The earner of $931,713 sold to Haras Cerro Punta, a Panamanian stud. Taylor Made Sales consigned the 9-year-old Johannesburg horse, a son of the stakes-placed Silver Deputy mare Something Silver.