'Fair and Stable' Keeneland January Sale Concludes

Keeneland

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by Jessica Martini & Stefanie Grimm

LEXINGTON, KY – Driven by strong demand at the top–which saw the auction produce its first seven-figure horses in five years–the Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale concluded Thursday in Lexington with a fairly steady average, but a double-digit decline in median.

“I think it's been a very fair and stable market,” said Keeneland Director of Sales Tony Lacy. “We saw a lot of stability and a lot of good trade going on. When you look at the fact that we haven't had a $1-million horse in January since 2019, and we had two through the ring and one sold privately, there was a lot of quality. I think that is what we saw the first day with the increase in gross and average. People are very much focused on the quality and are willing to pay a premium for it. Overall, the numbers were very satisfactory. Speaking to the buyers and speaking to the sellers, everybody found it a fair, competitive market. Nobody had a complaint that there was any sort of perceived weakness or anything that would give us concern for the future.”

Through four sessions, 831 horses grossed $38,330,300. The average of $46,126 dipped 2.28% from a year ago, while the median fell 21.05% to $15,000. The buyback rate remained steady at 22.84%.

“The median is down 21% from last year, but again the average has really held up,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Cormac Breathnach said. “It's a sign that the top part of the market is in really good shape. That buoyancy is helping the average. The middle and lower end of the market felt a little spotty in Book 1, but [Wednesday]'s session was better than the corresponding session last year, which I think is a good sign for the market at large.”

During the auction's first session Monday, the broodmare prospect Prank (Into Mischief) became the sale topper when selling for $1.6 million to Tom Wachman of Coolmore from the Gainesway consignment. It was the first time since Coolmore spent $5 million to acquire Abel Tasman (Quality Road) at the 2019 sale that a horse had brought seven figures at a January sale. Later in that same session, Japan's K I Farm purchased Canadian champion Curlin's Voyage (Curlin) for $1 million from the Hill 'n' Dale at Xalapa consignment. The 2024 January auction got a third seven-figure mare when Star Act (Street Cry {Ire}) sold post-sale for $1.2 million.

Star Act's private sale marked the second Keeneland sale at which a post-sale transaction provided a seven-figure result. At the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, Puca (Big Brown) brought the auction's unofficial top price when selling post-sale for $2.9 million.

“Both of those two high-profile horses brought significantly more post-sale than they RNA'd for, which to me is reflective of an active buyer base,” said Breathnach.

As at the November sale, the January sale featured a vibrant post-sale trade. An additional 27 horses sold after initially being unsold in ring for $2,243,000.

“Our RNA-to-sale activity is up on last year,” Breathnach said. “We saw that in November, too. So sometimes, the RNA rate can look a little spiky and sometimes it is, but it's also kind of bolstered by the fact that people are here to buy. And that's a good sign for the number of people who are here and actually active. When they really think about what these horses are worth, they are willing to reconsider and give market value and at significantly higher numbers. Maybe that is partly coincidental and only happens this year, but I think it reflects an active buyer base that is determined to buy quality and we are grateful for that.”

Lacy added, “When you walk into the ring, in the hope of what something might bring, the market tells you what a horse is worth on the day. And that's a compromise between what someone is willing to spend and what you were hoping to get on the other side. There is a balance. But I think the post-sale trade also shows there is still a market after the hammer falls. And it's one that we encourage pretty strongly. It's not just in the ring. We feel like that is an important part of the process.”

Prank tops this year's Keeneland January Sale | Keeneland

As it was at the Keeneland November sale, the market for quality weanlings–and now short yearlings–remained strong.

“[The short yearling market] was very competitive,” said Breathnach. “The ones that sold well, sold very, very well. I think people were quite surprised by the activity at the top end of the yearling market. There was a lot of money around and for the good horses. That's a great sign for the future.”

In 2024, 382 short yearlings sold for $14,846,700 and an average of $38,866. A pair of yearlings shared top price of $430,000, with Cherry Knoll Farm acquiring a colt by Not This Time and John Stewart's Resolute Bloodstock purchasing a filly by Candy Ride (Arg) for that price. Three yearlings sold for $400,000 or over, six sold for $300,000 or over and 11 sold for $200,000 or over.

In 2023, 407 short yearlings sold through the ring for a gross of $18,055,300 and average of $44,362. A filly by Quality Road was the highest-priced yearling last year, selling for $450,000, and she was one of two to sell for $400,000 or over and five sold for $300,000 or over. Sixteen yearling sold for $200,000 or over.

“I think it's a really good sign for the health of the yearling market for next September that the activity is here in the new tax year with various uncertainties, obviously, around the world and in the economy,” Breathnach said. “The economy is in good shape, interest rates are coming down and inflation levels are drastically lower than they were. Still, people have reason to look to the future and make tough decisions, but they are deciding to buy good horses at a very high level.”

The January catalogue was diminished by a large number of outs. From a catalogue of 1,487, a total of 410 were withdrawn before going through the ring.

“We saw an elevated number of scratches, especially on session two, I think that was a lot of people who weren't really pressured to sell,” said Lacy. “And you saw that in the short yearlings, specifically, where people were happy enough to keep them and point them to September.”

The January sale attracted a diverse, and international buying bench, with the top 15 highest-priced horses bought by 13 different entities.

K I Farm's Tomoyuki Nakamura traveled from Japan to attend the January Sale for the first time. Also active was Japan's Shadai Farm, which acquired broodmare prospect Dolce Zel (Fr) (Zelzal {Fr}), a multiple group winner, for $400,000. In addition to Europe and Japan, buyers also represented Saudi Arabia, the Philippines and Australia.

“There was very broad-based, global attention focused on this sale,” Lacy said. “Our sales team has been aggressive in traveling around the world, meeting people in person in their home countries to make sure they understand Keeneland is an international marketplace. We've had correspondence from people around the world during this sale in addition to the great buyer base who were here.”

Taylor Made Sales Agency was the leading consignor by gross at the January sale for the 21st time since 2001. Taylor Made sold 100 head for $5,080,200. Bloodstock agent Steve Young, who purchased four mares on behalf of Ramona Bass to support Bass's recently retired stallion Annapolis, was the auction's leading buyer.

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