Keeneland January Concludes

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Mrs McDougal | Keeneland

By Jessica Martini

LEXINGTON, Ky – The Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale, shortened to four days this year, concluded its run in Lexington Thursday with double-digit increases over the five-day 2017 renewal of the auction.

“I think the excitement that started in September and then November has continued on,” Keeneland’s Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell said. “I think there is a great interest and hunger in the market.”

The 2018 January sale catalogue included 1,583 head, down from 1,892 in 2017. Despite the reduction, the gross for the sale was $34,996,000–up from $28,785,5000 in 2017. In all, 909 horses sold for an average of $38,499–up 28.53% from a year ago, while the median of $12,000 was up 14.29%. Twenty eight horses sold for $200,000 or more in 2018, up from 17 in 2017.

Prior to the start to January sale, Keeneland’s Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said one of the goals of the sales team was a higher clearance rate. Elliston declared it was mission accomplished Thursday as the buy-back rate dropped to 25.9% from 31.4%. The figure was 20.27% during Wednesday’s session and just 18.61% during Thursday’s final session.

“Quantity isn’t necessarily our guidepost anymore,” Elliston said. “Yes, we would like to have as many offerings as we can, but we really wanted to see commerce getting done.”

Elliston said, “Even though we had 300 or 400 hips fewer in our catalogue, to sell this number of horses and to get this clearance rate up suggests to us that, in partnership with our consignors and our breeders, we are getting the right kind of offerings to this market.” Elliston continued, “Wednesday, even though the average and median weren’t where they were last year, our clearance rate was much better. We were seeing the RNA rate down to the 20-21% versus 33% last year. So there are a couple of indications, both at the high end and at the middle and low end, that business is getting done.”

The four-day auction was topped by the $1.6-million sale of broodmare prospect Mrs McDougal (Medaglia d’Oro), who was purchased by bloodstock agent Steve Young from the Eaton Sales consignment. Also bringing seven figures at the January sale was a short yearling by American Pharoah, who was purchased for $1 million–third highest colt in sale history–by Coolmore from the Paramount Sales consignment. It was the first time since 2013 that the January sale had more than one million-dollar sale.

The weanling market at last year’s November bloodstock sales was strong and the trend continued into the New Year with short yearlings at Keeneland.

Led by the $1-million American Pharoah colt, 353 yearlings sold during the January sale for a total of $13,786,100. The average was $39,054–up from $27,643 a year ago–and the median was $13,000. The top-priced yearling in 2017 was a $385,000 son of Uncle Mo and the colt was one of five to sell for $200,000 or over. That figure increased to 11 in 2018.

“The short yearlings guys were saying it was very competitive,” Russell said. “And the competition pushed prices up. We had end-users buying and also pinhookers buying and we obviously enjoy when they all get together. People were complimentary of the quality of the short yearlings, too. I think the buzz word that we heard last year, and continues on this year, is quality. The perceived quality weanlings bring more prices.”

The strength of the yearling market was no surprise to bloodstock agent Mike McMahon, who was active as both a buyer and a seller during the four-day auction.

“I’m never surprised what good foals can bring,” McMahon said. “Good foals bring yearling prices and then 2-year-old prices as yearlings. Good foals are in demand always.”

Of the mare market, McMahon added, “I think good mares are okay. There still seems to be some reluctance among Americans to own mares. But we bought a nice mare from the first book and partnered her out fairly easily. So maybe the market is coming back, but it’s still slower than the foals obviously.”

Doug Arnold of Buck Pond Farm, who was also active on both sides of the ledger at the January sale, found plenty to be optimistic about going forward into 2018.

“I think that there is a lot of momentum and I think the more money that people can get, as they can pay their bills and get on solid footing, you’ll see things start trickling down to other horses,” Arnold said. “We’re seeing a lot of people who sold horses [earlier in the sale] who are back here buying horses today. Why would they be doing that unless they feel really good about what is going on.”

Arnold continued, “A lot of times now, when you’re bidding on a horse, you won’t get it for what you thought you would and then the opposition and then you will bid once or twice more. Which is a confidence thing. I think all indicators are really strong. I see a lot of new faces and a lot of old faces, too, so, while we still need to attract new buyers, I think it bodes well for the industry.”

Chus Add to Broodmare Band

Charles and Susan Chu’s Baoma Corp., through bloodstock agent Donato Lanni, added three broodmares to its burgeoning band during the Keeneland January sale this week. Lanni, who signed the ticket at $140,000 on Lindeza (Harlan’s Holiday) (hip 505) during Tuesday’s second session of the sale, purchased the top two broodmares during Thursday’s final session of the auction, going to $80,000 to acquire Tabulation (Giant’s Causeway) (hip 1456) and $72,000 for La Nonna (Unbridled’s Song) (hip 1282).

“We are looking to expand our broodmare band,” Susan Chu confirmed Thursday. “We are mostly looking for mares to breed to our stallions–we have Chitu and we have a new stallion coming soon, so we’re preparing for that.”

Chitu, who will stand the 2018 season at Bridlewood Farm for $4,500, will be joined at the Ocala nursery this year by Baoma Corp.’s Valiant Minister (Candy Ride {Arg}). That 5-year-old, a $680,000 OBS June graduate, was an impressive winner of his only start at Santa Anita last January (video) for trainer Bob Baffert.

The Chus currently have 15 broodmares and are planning to add to that number as the right offerings become available.

“I don’t really have a limit on the number to buy,” Chu said. “I just have Donato make the decision on which mares he likes. We are looking for strong mares with good racing performances. We prefer young mares and also good pedigrees.”

Chu laughingly admitted she was hoping her bloodstock agent will find more mares for the band soon.

“I am hoping Donato can get more, but he’s very serious,” she said. “I push him and tell him to hurry. He said, ‘Sure, sure, but I’ll only buy the good quality mares,’ and I say, ‘I understand.’ He’s very, very careful. I know. I totally count on him.”

Baoma Corp., which was represented in 2017 by graded stakes winners Lord Simba (Discreet Cat) and Faypien (Ghostzapper), recently parted ways with 2016 Eclipse champion sprinter Drefong (Gio Ponti), who will begin his stud career in 2018 in Japan.

“We are going to fly to Japan very soon to see him,” Chu said of Drefong.

Galvin Strikes Late

As the Keeneland January sale was winding down Thursday evening, Hunter Valley Farm’s Fergus Galvin struck late to purchase a pair of racing prospects on behalf of Chicago businessman Marc Detampel.

“He’s a little light on his racehorses right now, so we are filling the stable back up a little bit,” Galvin explained.

Galvin made a final bid of $80,000 to secure Mr Classical (Bernardini) (hip 1573) and three hips later came back to acquire Red Kite (Harlan’s Holiday) (hip 1576) for $53,000. Both were consigned by Mill Ridge Sales on behalf of Juddmonte Farms.

The 4-year-old colt Mr Classical was third and fourth in a pair of starts in New York last summer for Juddmonte and trainer Chad Brown. A 4-year-old gelding, Red Kite finished second behind subsequent Grade I winner Gormley in his only start to date at Del Mar in September 2016 for trainer Bob Baffert.

“It is hard to find these kind of horses,” Galvin agreed. “The appeal of both of them is that they are lightly raced, they all have their conditions. There is plenty of prize money when you get to the spring for maiden and allowance horses. So that’s what we’re targeting with both of them–maybe Keeneland in the spring.”

Mr Classical is expected to join the barn of trainer Brendan Walsh and Red Kite will join Andrew McKeever’s string.

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