Something For Everyone As Keeneland November Wraps

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Paris Lights topped a vibrant market at Keeneland November | Keeneland photo

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The seasonal foliage was about the only thing falling at the Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale, which concluded a wildly successful run in Lexington Friday afternoon. Over the course of 10 days of trade, sales officials reported gross receipts of $203,585,500 for 2470 horses sold, good for an average of $82,423. Further demonstrating the strength of middle market, the median price of $37,000 established a new November record, eclipsing the previous mark of $35,000 set on five previous occasions, but most recently in 2014. The buyback rate closed at a very manageable 17.4%.

The November sale was topped by the supplemented GI Coaching Club American Oaks winner Paris Lights (Curlin) (hip 224D), who was consigned by Brad Weisbord and Liz Crow's EliTE, as agent for WinStar Farm/WinStar Stablemates. Despite the passing of its founder B. Wayne Hughes this past August, Spendthrift Farm continued an aggressive buying spree dating back to last year's breeding stock sales, going to $3.1 million for the daughter of Paris Bikini (Bernardini). Paris Lights was one of seven mares that eclipsed the seven-figure mark at Keeneland, each of which was secured by a different buyer, while the 41 horses that sold for a pricetag in excess of $500,000 were acquired by some 30 unique entities.

The 2021 November Sale also warmly welcomed the return of a broad international buying bench, as the United States conditionally opened its borders on the eve of the auction Nov. 8. Bidding was spirited at every level of the sale, across each of the five books that was capped by Friday's equally vibrant Horses of Racing Age Section (see related story). So lively was the bidding that by the time the dust had settled on the Book 3 finale Nov. 14, the sale had already soared past the gross for the entire COVID-impacted event in 2020.

The weanling section of the sale also featured competitive bidding, with end-users and resellers alike making their presence felt. Four Star Sales sold the highest-priced foal of the sale (hip 144), an $800,000 Frankel (GB) half-sister to MGSW Nay Lady Nay (Ire) (No Nay Never) and GSW/MG1SP Arizona (Ire) (No Nay Never) to Midlantic-based trainer Phil Schoenthal, agent for Matt Dorman's D. Hatman Thoroughbreds.

The level of engagement augurs well for horse racing and breeding, Keeneland President and CEO Shannon Arvin said.

“Excitement for racing and confidence in the future of our sport globally are positive trends for the entire horse industry,” she commented. “The November Sale continued the optimism we saw in September with great energy on the sales grounds, smiling faces all around and people having fun doing what they love. As in September, Keeneland worked to elevate the sales atmosphere with many little touches that we hope consignors and buyers really enjoyed, and that helped create a terrific environment to showcase the quality individuals that breeders and sellers brought to market. We are delighted with the enthusiastic response of buyers.”

Opening of Borders Comes In The Nick of Time…

Following an 18-month interruption owing to the coronavirus, the United States officially re-opened its borders to fully vaccinated international travelers Monday, Nov. 8, one day prior to the Fasig-Tipton November Sale and two days before the start of Keeneland November. The sales sheets bear out that the international buying bench contributed mightily to the overall sales performance at all price points.

On the heels of two landmark victories at the Breeders' Cup at Del Mar, Japanese interests were active at the top and middle levels of the market–as is their custom–with Masahiro Miki signing for three lots for $3,675,000, topped by the $2.3 million Pink Sands (Tapit) (hip 183). Katsumi Yoshida added New Jersey-bred Horologist (Gemologist) (hip 200) to his formidable broodmare band at Northern Farm, paying $800,000 for the MGSW and MGISP mare.

Keeneland November grad Gypsy Robin (Daaher, $750,000, 2013) became the dam of G1 A. J. Moir S. hero Wild Ruler (Aus) (Snitzel {Aus}) at Melbourne's Moonee Valley Racecourse late last month, the latest major success of American-sourced bloodstock Down Under. Looking for lightning to strike again–and hopefully again and again–that 4-year-old colt's part-owner Newgate Farm (Henry Field) teamed with SF Bloodstock on no fewer than five purchases, led by MGSW Tonalist's Shape (Tonalist) (hip 46). Australian horsemen Julian Blaxland, Will Johnson, Bruce Slade and Craig Rounsefell were prominent players, as were trainers Richard and Michael Freedman.

 

The sale's back books drew buyers from Central America, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey, a function of Keeneland's aggressive strategy to recruit buyers from these 'emerging' racing jurisdictions.

As with any sporting event, it's great to watch on TV and all, but nothing beats being there in person, said Keeneland Vice President of Sales Tony Lacy.

“The opening of the U.S. borders just two days before the sale really created an atmosphere and brought back a feeling of probably 10-15 years ago, when you had a really vibrant international market,” said Lacy. “The presence of the Australians was really welcomed, because American broodmares have been doing exceptionally well in their gene pool. It was great to see the Europeans coming back here and spending money again. The attraction of American pedigrees is starting to gain traction again. I think going forward there is real momentum and I think we've got a real good base to work off in the future.”

Added Keeneland Director of Sales Cormac Breathnach, “American bloodlines are so valuable around the world and are huge contributors to studbooks in various jurisdictions. We are privileged and fortunate to be able to present that market to the world here at Keeneland and with the support of all the breeders and consignors that send us such quality stock. The market has been very strong, the international participation is consistent and very valuable to us and it's exciting for us to be on this end of it.”

'Cool' Marketplace Fosters Confidence, Stability…

Another positive in Lacy's eyes is the re-emergence of buyers at the November Sale who had availed themselves of a break of as many as 15 years from the sales.

“I think what is really encouraging is that you're seeing some people that might have been inactive for a number of years [buying horses],” he offered. “I'll use Bill Casner as an example. Bill has been active, but at a slightly lower level. This year he came back and bought at a significant level. If you look at the results through Books 1 and 2, you see people who have purchased farms that were active and really doubling down, stocking up for their farms.”

And that helps to maintain a relatively even keel, according to Lacy.

“I think even if we have a correction in the market over the next few years, you won't have the same panic in the market because of the fact that this is real money that's being invested,” he said. “There's confidence. Prize money being up has really helped and the fact that we have partnerships that are buying racehorses has invigorated the yearling market. When you have a vibrant yearling market, the reaction is that people think 'alright, it's valuable to breed these horses' and to have a market to sustain it. That's extremely encouraging. I don't think the market is overheating in any way. If you look at the results from 2018-2019–eliminate the results from 2020–but look at 2021, you actually see a straight line. There's a very consistent line of growth. 2020 was a bit of anomaly, but last year was actually better than what we thought it might be. There was a demand for young stock and it's carried over here.”

Breathnach concurred.

“There's a lot of help in the industry, from the sporting end with high purses and handle has been very good and there is a lot of energy around the sport again,” he explained. “People made money in September and now they're reinvesting now with confidence, because like Tony said, it feels like a very fair, sound market and something that is sustainable, because there is a balance between supply and demand and there is a real appetite to buy and to fill orders and they're not getting them filled in many cases. They're getting pushed back in the books and now they're going to be back in January to try to fill their orders there.”

Following Through On A Vision…

In a TDN interview with Katie Petrunyak after being named to his new role earlier this year, Lacy said he was committed to enhancing the buying experience for the auction house's clientele, making it fun and exciting. With Keeneland's two biggest sales now in the rearview, it is clear Lacy very much intends on seeing that task through.

“We've been really focused on creating a little more energy, a little more excitement and a little more of an atmosphere around the grounds,” he said. “In September, we had to duct tape a lot of things together to make this work, starting in early summer. It's been well received. A lot of international and out-of-town customers have really enjoyed themselves and I think that's something we want to try to build on.

“It's a transactional business, but we also realize that there is a lot enjoyment in trying to source and buy quality stock,” he continued. “That's something we'll be focusing on more and more. We want make sure that people realize that when you invest here, it increases prize money, it allows us to do more development. We're also really excited about having the Breeders' Cup here next year. Next November is going to be a really exciting time and we're already planning for what we can do then.”

An ELiTE November Topper…

One might think that selling a horse for $3.1 million wouldn't necessarily elicit a significant reaction from ELiTE Sales' Brad Weisbord within the context of having consigned the likes of champions Monomoy Girl ($9.5 million) and Midnight Bisou ($5 million) and Uni (GB) ($4.1 million) on a single night a little more than a year ago. But Weisbord, who said has seen his baby daughter a grand total of 'one day in the last five weeks,' was still basking in the afterglow of the sale of Paris Lights nine days after she went through the ring at Keeneland November.

“It's been a great November,” said Weisbord. “It was a pleasant surprise to hear from Elliott Walden two weeks before the sale, saying that he was giving us Paris Lights to sell. We put our heads together and seeing all those headliners at Fasig-Tipton, we thought it was best to bring Paris Lights to Keeneland because she would have a chance to shine there. This was a case of being the last big fish in the sales ring and everybody lined up on her. To sell a $3-million mare, even in a healthy market, is a giant deal and we were very appreciative of the opportunity.”

Like so many others, Weisbord has been taken by the performance of the market over the last week and a half.

“This, for me, is the best market we've ever participated in,” he said. “I thought the same thing last year and this year is even better. The health of the worldwide economy is continuing to strengthen. We have probably never seen this strong a market at the upper end. We had five millionaires and there was very active bidding well above our reserves for all five of them.”

 

Taylor Made Tops Among Consignors…

There are a few constants in life: death, taxes and Taylor Made Sales topping the consignors' table at Keeneland November.

And so it was in 2021, as the agency sold 246 head for $23,873,200 to reign as king of that particular hill for the 25th time since 1990.

“We've got a great base of customers, many of whom have been with us for decades and continually give us good horses,” Taylor Made's Mark Taylor commented. “We've got a hell of a team. A lot of the people that work for us could run their own consignments, they know what they're doing. Us Taylors are just the conduits between the employees and the customer. We're very lucky. Thanksgiving is coming up, so we're very grateful.”

Given the strength of the year's previous auctions, Taylor said the overall results of the November sale were not totally unexpected, yet simultaneously a bit surprising.

“What was encouraging was that it was strong from start to finish and there was demand for horses at all levels. It was really good,” he said. “It exceeded my expectations in this way. I thought that our high six-figure and seven-figure horses, that we would be selling into a very healthy market. The middle market commercial breeders–what we have been seeing is signs of them shrinking down. Wherever they are in the market, they want to sell off and have higher quality. The cost of keeping them and raising them keeps going up and then also the veterinary scrutiny continues to get more intense.

“It's totally out of their control,” he added. “You're raising this animal that you're bringing to the market and there's so much intense vet scrutiny that a lot of the commercial breeders just can't stomach it. It's so hard to hit a home run, and even when you have a horse that's capable of it, sometimes it takes just one or two opinions and instead of hitting a home run, you're striking out. It's a hard business model because there is so much unpredictability in that way. I was pleasantly surprised that there was so much demand for those mares. I thought it was going to get really thin and really weak once we hit Book 3, but that was not the case. It's a testament to how much people love this game. That they're willing to reinvest and plow money back in.”

Ingordo: Buying Horses 'Was Not Easy'…

Noted bloodstock agent David Ingordo was one of many buyers who found the sledding to be pretty tough at the November sale. That being said, he wasn't complaining and also sees a bright future for the sport.

“On the heels of as good a September sale as I've ever seen and a yearling sales season that was phenomenal, quite frankly, it was expected that November would be a good market,” he said. “I'm usually a foal buyer, but I was not able to get anything bought in my price range and at my comfort level for what my needs were. We got outbid quite a bit, I thought the foal market was quite strong, and deservedly so. Pinhookers had a good year, end-users are buying more weanlings now than they ever have and there is just a lot of competition for good foals.

He continued, “On the mare side, again it goes back to good yearling sales. A lot of people are reinvesting in mares, making key acquisitions for broodmare bands, and that was difficult to do as well. On the value side of the broodmare market, there were a lot of people supporting their various sires and we saw a lot of mare competition and it was tough. We were able to buy horses that we wanted, but it was not an easy process.”

Ingordo signed 19 tickets to support new Lane's End stallion Code of Honor (Noble Mission {GB}) and another half-dozen in the name of Gage Hill II in partnership with Lane's End.

“Code of Honor is a very attractive horse and stands over a lot of ground,” he explained. “Physically we're thinking to add some strength and some body to the mares we breed to him. He won what is historically one of the best 2-year-old races at Saratoga and got beat a lip in the Champagne, so he has 2-year-old form. We're looking to try to make him a commercial horse and try to get some runners out there early. We bought some speedy types of physicals from sire lines we felt would bring additional precocity that he himself had. He's a wide-open horse to breed to pedigree-wise, so we were able to find a wide variety of mares that fit him. As is becoming our model, we are committed to supporting these horses with mares, we're going to buy yearlings and weanlings by him, we're going to buy 2-year-olds. And people that breed to him, we're going to support those that breed to the horse by buying horses off them as well.”

The sales are a means to an end and Ingordo is encouraged not only by the results of the past week-plus, but also by the state of the horse racing business.

“That winning post about a quarter-mile up from the pavilion and the winner's circle is what drives this,” he said, referring to the Keeneland finish line. “Racing is healthier than is sometimes reported, we seem to always focus on the negatives. I personally race horses and we make our racing stable work based on the prize money we can win. It covers the bills and hopefully we create a product that we can sell as a stallion or a broodmare or whatever. Purses are good and there is a demand I haven't seen for some time. It is quite refreshing to see just how many people want to race horses at whatever level they're able to do it. Even if you have a claiming horse, you can still make it make sense. That is something we need to focus on as a big positive and realize that is what is driving all this demand. Someone has to produce those horses, so the breeders are being rewarded for producing a nice horse, and whatever region they're in, people want to race.”

What They're Saying At The Sales…

“I think I'm like everyone else…OMG is the explanation for it. The strength of the market is mind-boggling, the strength of the stock market is mind-boggling. There's just so much money in the world right now and you combine that with the accelerated depreciation we're getting, purse money is up and overall gambling on racing continues to move forward. We've got as close to a perfect storm in the horse business probably since all that crazy money in the early 80s. It's as good as it's been since the turn of the century.

“The increase in the $10,000 to $60,000 horse, which was sometimes unsellable, there now seems to be a fervent market for those horses. I don't know where the money is coming from, but it's great for the industry.”

–Bradley Thoroughbreds' Peter Bradley

 

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