Looking to Keep Momentum Going, Keeneland January Sale Starts Monday

Keeneland January sales grounds | Keeneland photo

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The Keeneland January Horses of All Ages Sale opens its four-day run Monday in Lexington and Keeneland officials will be hoping to kick off 2023 the same way they ended 2022 following strong renewals of Keeneland's November and September auctions.

“I think we have to be pretty optimistic, coming off a strong November with a vibrant market,” Keeneland's Vice President of Sales Tony Lacy said of expectations for the sale. “I think there is still an appetite for quality young stock and horses with perceived value.”

There was strong demand for weanlings at the November sale, with 881 selling for $62,154,100 and an average of $70,549. At the 2021 November sale, 860 weanlings sold for $59,195,700 for an average of $68,832. That demand from two months ago will likely continue for short yearlings this week in Lexington.

“A lot of pinhookers didn't get the number of weanlings that they were hoping to get in November,” Lacy said. “They found the market very  competitive and they will be coming in with money to spend.”

And Lacy expects to see a competitive market for broodmares, as well.

“The demand for quality breeding stock is probably as good as it's been in the last number of years,” he said. “I think there is a lot of optimism and a lot of people reinvesting in the industry right now with purses stronger. There is a lot of blue sky that we are looking at right now. Anybody who has that perceived quality, I think they will be rewarded.”

The January auction initially included a catalogue of 1,509 head, but with supplemental entries being added up to just a few days before sale time, the final catalogue included 1,601 offerings.

“It's a catalogue that is very similar to last year in terms of numbers,” said Keeneland's Director of Sales Operations Cormac Breathnach. “We had a little over 1,500 initial entries and we've added about 109 supplements. It's a pretty dynamic catalogue.”

Of the late additions to the catalogue, which include such current offerings as Ack Naughty (Afleet Alex), whose son Practical Move (Practical Joke) won the Dec. 17 GII Los Alamitos Futurity, Breathnach said, “We are really happy with the support that we've received. The ability to take supplements up to late in the day allows us to keep the catalogue fresh and current.”

The strength of the sales market in 2022 has led many people to increase their investment in the industry in 2023, according to Lacy.

“There is a reinvestment from a lot of buyers that, in many cases, have been on the sidelines for a number of years and are now re-upping their programs,” he said. “When you've got a market for the product in September [at the yearling sale], I think it creates a viability for the breeders. It's a great activity for many people to invest in and get involved in. There is a renewed interest in participating in breeding and reselling as pinhookers. I think that sense of optimism is driving a lot of this. The increase of purses, we had a great Breeders' Cup, racing is sort of elevating year over year in its quality and its safety and in many other ways. There are a lot of syndicates and partnerships driving a lot of this as well.”

Breathnach sees the addition of several high-profile stallions to Kentucky's sire ranks helping to create demand for broodmares.

“One of the things that is driving the domestic market is the stallion power,” Breathnach said. “There is a lot of excitement around some of the stallions, obviously Gun Runner is a shining light, but there are a lot of exciting young stallions, especially the crop just going to stud for this coming spring. That helped fuel the broodmare demand in November. There are people going around with seasons to some of these better stallions that don't have the mares to breed on those seasons yet. So we are hearing that from some of the buying base here domestically and hopefully they can fill those orders with us. That's really what propels the sale forward for everybody else.”

A total of 1,048 horses sold during last year's Keeneland January sale for a gross of $47,630,600. The average was $45,449 and the median was $20,000. The newly turned 3-year-old filly Princesse Lele (Quality Road) brought the auction's top price of $750,000 when selling to Three Chimneys Farm to dissolve the partnership of Three Chimneys and Hill 'n' Dale.

Lacy is hoping the January sale continues the trend of a sustainable, solid marketplace.

“Overall, I think we are in a good place right now and we are just looking to maintain a steady, healthy growth,” Lacy said. “We want to make sure that we can maintain that, not just for one sale, but for a number of seasons–and making sure it's stable. I think the worst thing that can happen is to get a market that is overheated that then has a crash. And I think we've sustained a very healthy marketplace in a volatile economic environment. So again, it's encouraging what we've seen so far and I think for the immediate future I don't see much change. But again, we are looking medium-to-long term as well and maintaining a good healthy, steady growth is critically important, not just for us, but for the industry as a whole.”

Bidding for each session of the Keeneland January sale begins at 10 a.m.Look

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