By Bill Oppenheim
First, the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. There were a few minor glitches but the overwhelming consensus was they pulled it off, and how. For sales regulars any kind of racing, even the regular meet, is disconcerting, but this had even more potential for things going wrong. But it was so good regular racegoers were saying how much easier it was to get in and out, and get around, than even at the regular meet. The racing was fantastic, there were no incidents, and we saw some great performances, notably from Liam’s Map in the GI Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Friday, and from Tepin in the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile, and of course from American Pharoah (Beyer 120) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic on Saturday. American Pharoah thus became the first horse ever to win the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic (newly dubbed the ‘Grand Slam’), since the Breeders’ Cup was still just a gleam in John Gaines’s eye the last time we had a Triple Crown winner, 37 years ago. He also easily qualifies as the most exciting (and expensive) sire prospect to retire since Frankel three years ago.
The 2-year-old dirt races each resulted in decisive champions. The Medaglia d’Oro filly Songbird blitzed her rivals in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, running a Beyer 99, while Nyquist, from Uncle Mo’s first crop, scored his fourth straight decision over the Birdstone colt, Swipe, in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, though running a second slower and earning a Beyer figure of only 89. It’s hard to argue with the result, though: their California form held up to the pound, and they beat the GI Breeders’ Futurity winner and the GI Champagne S. winner decisively.
Nyquist’s win sent Ashford’s Uncle Mo into the lead as not only leading North American freshman sire, but also North America’s leading sire of 2-year-olds, over long-time 2015 leader and barn mate Scat Daddy; the current margin is a little over $200,000. Scat Daddy has six 2015 GSW 2-year-olds, and eight 2015 black-type winning 2-year-olds, so even if he doesn’t overhaul Uncle Mo he has had one hell of a breakthrough year– which is sure to be reflected in a steep hike in his 2016 stud fee. Songbird’s sire, Darley’s Medaglia d’Oro, is third on the 2016 NA juvenile sire list, followed by Claiborne’s War Front, sire of GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Hit It A Bomb as well as Europe’s top 2-year-old colt, Air Force Blue; remember, earlier this year, all the whisperings that War Front had seemingly gone quiet? Wrong! Darley’s Bernardini and Gainesway’s Tapit are five-six on the juvenile sire list, and of course Tapit is well on his way to his second straight North American sire championship (almost $17m), with Medaglia d’Oro a strong second ($12.6m).
The first three days of the November sales–Fasig-Tipton Sunday and Keeneland Book 1 Monday and Tuesday–were broadly similar to last year, but with some important differences. As you will see from the accompanying Weekly Sales Ticker, Fasig’s gross was down $20-million while their clearance rate from the catalogue dropped 9%, from 55% to 46% of the catalogue listed as sold. Keeneland Book 1 had a 57% clearance rate from the catalogue, down from 61%. Overall the three days combined–really the crux of the November market–was off 4% in gross ($7-million), off 2% in average, and with 5% fewer selling from those catalogued. It did feel decidedly soft in places, yet for all that it is still very difficult to buy a nice mare or weanling.
Especially if it’s by, or in foal to, Tapit, War Front, or Medaglia d’Oro. Tapit is the leading North American covering sire, with seven mares in foal averaging over $1.5-million, and second by weanling average–eight averaged $595,000 through the first three days–among sires with two or more sold in either category. But War Front, second in covering sire average (four, averaged $1,175,000), had a blockbuster $2,037,250 average from four foals sold, including the new $3.2-million record filly out of Take Charge Lady sold as part of a spectacular consignment of weanlings from Hill ’n’ Dale Farm. Medaglia d’Oro was third on both covering sire average (10 mares in foal to him averaged $856,000) and weanling average (two, averaged $480,000) among North American sires with two or more sold in the respective categories.
The leading North American first-year sire (first foals 2015, or F2015) by weanling average for the first three days was Ashford’s Declaration of War (four, averaged $295,000), though those foals were actually part of his single European-sired crop. Claiborne’s 2013 GI Kentucky Derby winner, Orb (Malibu Moon), was the leading F2015 sire to have stood in North America, with six weanlings averaging $144,166, ahead of Darley’s Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux), the 2011 GI Kentucky Derby and 2013 G1 Dubai World Cup winner; he’d had four weanlings sell through Tuesday, for an average of $123,750. The picture is less clear yet on North American first-year covering sires (2016), though the dam of GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Runhappy brought $1.6-million in foal to Airdrie’s Cairo Prince, and three mares in foal to WinStar’s Paynter averaged $463,333 over the first three days.