'Pragmatic' Keeneland November Sale Concludes with Numbers Down

$2.1-million White Hot | Keeneland


The Keeneland November Breeding Stock concluded its nine-day run in Lexington Thursday with numbers off from its 2022 renewal in what Keeneland Vice President of Sales Tony Lacy called a “pragmatic, solid sale.”

At the close of business Thursday, 2,128 horses had sold through the ring for $176,571,000. The average of $82,975 was down 16.94% from a year ago, while the median of $32,000 was down 20.00%.

“Overall, it's been a very pragmatic, solid sale,” said Lacy. “Demand for quality is extremely strong, probably as strong as ever, and that's very encouraging. There's a lot of stability in the market. With a slight correction, we're down just 15% on most metrics, and that's within expected parameters considering we're dealing with increasing interest rates and a strong U.S. dollar. Early in the sale, there was some protectionism from sellers who weren't going to let nice horses go below a value they felt was reasonable. And the market is more sensitive to mares that are a little more exposed. That's not unreasonable. We saw that in September and in other markets. The middle market was extremely healthy. Sellers were pleased for the most part, and buyers found it tough to buy the quality stock.”

With 600 horses reported not sold during the nine-day auction, the buy-back rate of 21.99%–just a tick lower than last year's figure of 22.04%–was a bright spot in the November results, according to Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Cormac Breathnach.

“I think one thing we observed, a few sessions into the sale, sellers recognized the market in front of them and were very pragmatic in their approach, so as a result, we have had a very good clearance rate,” Breathnach said. “It's actually better than last year. When you do that and you manage expectations and have a high clearance rate, typically average and median are going to come down a little bit as well.”

The Keeneland November sale also featured a vibrant post-sale market this year.

“Our RNAs-to-sales activity is double what it was last year,” said Breathnach. “So the post-sale transactions are twice the gross total volume that they were last year. Which is a sign that the market is still hungry. There is still a lot of activity, a lot of horses being traded.”

There were 91 post-sale transactions at the 2023 November sale, resulting in an additional $12,265,000 in gross. In 2022, an additional 84 post sales grossed $6,402,500.

The most high-profile of those post-sale transactions this year was for Puca (Big Brown). Carrying a full-sibling to this year's GI Kentucky Derby winner Mage (Good Magic), the mare was originally led out of the ring unsold during Wednesday's Book 1 session, but she ultimately sold for what would have been a sale-topping $2.9 million to John Stewart.

With her inclusion, the November sale had 12 seven-figure offerings. The 2022 November sale had 13 seven-figure sales, including the $5.5-million sale topper Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute) and the $4.6 million fractional interest in Flightline (Tapit).

The Keeneland November results do reflect a softening in the market and that should be no surprise amidst swirling global uncertainties, said Gabriel Duignan of Paramount Sales.

“There's no denying there's a little correction, which kind of mirrors the rest of the world,” said Duignan. “I thought the good foal market was business as usual; if you had a good foal, you got well-paid for him. With the mares, the horses they want–the young mares and broodmare prospects–they're selling good. As a seller, it was a little sad that some of the mares that had just a little bit of exposure sold for cents on the dollar. The market just wants certain things and if you don't fit into that category, you're going to be penalized.”

High Demand in the Foal Market

While the 2023 November sale failed to come close to the seven-figure weanling from 2022, the overall foal market was strong.

“If you look at the foal market, it was incredibly strong and it shows that with quality breeding stock producing quality foals, you can get a great return, whether it's a yearling or a weanling,” said Lacy. “When you look at the weanling market, the weanlings who brought $400,000 or above, or $500,000 or above, were double the number from last year. And last year was widely considered a very strong market. So I don't think that there is a perception that the market is weak. The market has shown that they are willing to spend premium for quality stock.”

A colt by Gun Runner was the top-priced weanling of 2023 when selling to Shadwell Racing for $750,000. The youngster was one of 19 to sell for $400,000 or over this year.

A total of 775 weanlings sold at the 2023 November sale for a gross of $54,908,700. The average was $70,850 and the median was $35,000.

In 2022, 855 weanlings sold for $60,770,600 for an average of $71,077 and a median of $37,000. With a $1.5-million filly leading the way, 10 weanlings sold for $400,000 or over in 2022.

“We have had a couple of record September [yearling] sales in the last couple of years and the September market has been incredible,” said Breathnach. “So what we all noticed early on in the first few sessions [of the November sale] was strength in the foal market, which we feel is a reflection of confidence in next year's yearling market.”

Breathnach added that the strength of the weanling market may have boosted the mare market.

“Buyers saw an opportunity in the mare market,” he said. “If they were getting shut out or having to spend 20% to 30% more than the same foal might have cost last year, they pivoted and began buying mares carrying those pregnancies.”

Grade I winner Yaupon, whose first crop arrived this year, was the November sale's leading sire of weanlings with 31 foals bringing a total of $4,137,000. At $450,000, the most expensive was a colt out of the Bernardini mare Zetta Z who sold to Randy Hartley and Dean De Renzo's AAA Thoroughbreds, the sale's second-leading buyer with 18 purchases through the ring for $4.85 million.

Into Mischief was the leading sire of weanlings by average with three or more sold. His three weanlings averaged $433,333.

Leading Buyers, Sellers

Jacob West, as agent for Repole Stable, was the November sale's leading buyer with nine horses purchased for $5.22 million. Repole, whose week in Lexington began with the $6-million purchase of champion Nest (Curlin) at Fasig-Tipton, purchased Interstatedaydream (Classic Empire) for $1.4 million and Surprisingly (Mastery) for $1 million at Keeneland.

The auction's 12 highest-priced horses sold to 11 buyers representing interests from the U.S., Europe and Japan.

The November Sale also featured the first mares offered at Keeneland in foal to 2022 Horse of the Year Flightline, who was represented by seven mares sold for $6,625,000 to lead covering sires by gross and rank second to Into Mischief by average with $946,429. The most expensive mare in foal to Flightline was Grade I winner Dalika (Ger) (Pastorius {GB}), who is carrying her first foal and sold for $1.65 million to Pursuit of Success LLC.

For the 26th time since 1987, Taylor Made Sales Agency was the November sale's leading consignor, with 262 horses sold for  $22,889,900. The operation sold the auction's top-priced weanling, a colt by Gun Runner who brought a final bid of $750,000 from Shadwell Racing.

Pacific Pink Tops Keeneland Finale

Multiple stakes winner Pacific Pink (Private Vow) (hip 3310) brought the highest bid of Thursday's final session of the Keeneland November sale when purchased by Cary Bloodstock on behalf of Coteau Grove Farms for $85,000. The 11-year-old mare, who sold in foal to Volatile, was consigned by Denali Stud.  Her first foal, the 3-year-old Make the Boys Wink (More Than Ready), won a Churchill allowance Nov. 4 and, supplemented to the Fasig-Tipton November sale, sold for $450,000 to Gigi Stables three days later.

A filly by Beau Liam (hip 3359) was the session's top-priced weanling when selling for $70,000 to Buena Madera. Out of stakes-placed Sierra Aleone (Gemologist), the dark bay was consigned by Eaton Sales.

During Thursday's session, 255 horses sold for $2,645,700 for an average of $10,375 and a median of $7,000.

Horses of Racing Age Sell Friday

Selling will continue Friday at Keeneland with the company's second November Horses of Racing Age Sale. With entries still being added just days before sale time, 330 horses were catalogued for the one-session auction which begins at noon.

“We are excited for tomorrow's sale,” said Breathnach. “It's our second annual November Horses of Racing Age sale, so it's still a sale in its infancy. It's an important part of the market for us. This is where the purses really come into play and feed the demand for horses. Turfway is opening, Oaklawn is opening soon and Fair Grounds, so people are moving locations and it's a perfect opportunity for them to tweak their numbers and add or sell horses that have racing left in them.”

The Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale had included a section of horses of racing age before that portion of the sale was separated out for its own sale a year ago. The inaugural November Horses of Racing Age sale saw 161 horses sell for a gross of $11,029,500 and an average of $68,506. Extortion (Into Mischief) topped the sale when bringing $1 million from Mick Wallace on behalf of Gandharvi.

“It's a sale that takes a little time to get really established,” Lacy said. “But we are seeing that there is an interest level from the Middle East and from different parts of world that are looking at this sale as an option now to source individuals for their racing programs. I think as the sale goes forward–and also the Horses of Racing Age Sale in April–it's going to gain more traction.”

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