Grade 1 stakes winner and millionaire Unbridled Belle (Hip 25) sold for $400,000 to Haruya Yoshida of Oiwake Farm. Consigned by Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, agent, the 11-year-old mare by Broken Vow out of stakes winner Little Bold Belle is in foal to Bernardini. Photo provided by Keeneland
Keeneland’s January Horses of All Ages Sale started the new year strong for the Thoroughbred industry. The auction featured broodmares, racing/stallion prospects and new yearlings. A total of 1,105 horses went through the ring.
The four-day auction closed with positive numbers as compared to last year’s sale. Though gross receipts were down about 9 percent to $41,025,700 and the average price stayed relatively steady, falling from $40,912 to $39,947, the median price rose from $15,000 to $20,000.
The Keeneland January sale typically includes a smaller and more diverse catalogue than Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale or Fasig-Tipton’s November auction, which are hotspots for just-retired big-name race mares. Seven-figure pricetags are less common in January, which is one of the last chances for buyers to pick up broodmares ahead of the Feb. 15 opening of the breeding sheds.
Last year’s sale included the stock dispersal of Fares Farm, which drove prices and totals higher than what they likely would have been otherwise. Public dispersals not only add more entries to an auction but are typically the choice of liquidation for longtime breeders and owners exiting the business. Often, dispersals include horses and bloodlines that owners had cultivated privately for many years, and their novelty increases the demand for them in a commercial setting. Considering the presence of the dispersal horses in last year’s sale, the 2014 January auction numbers could be considered yet another sign that the market is improving.
As usual, broodmares brought the sale’s top prices — Ponche de Leona, dam of Mucho Macho Man, commanded the highest hammer price at $775,000. Mucho Macho Man won the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic in November 2013 and was recently announced as a finalist for the Eclipse Award for champion older male and for Horse of the Year. Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales signed the purchase ticket for Ponche de Leona on behalf of Pennsylvania-based Brushwood Stable.
Ponche de Leona, a gray/roan 15-year-old daughter of Ponche and Perfect and Proud, has produced two graded-stakes winners, the other being Mucho Mas Macho. She sold in foal to well-known Kentucky sire Distorted Humor and was consigned by Blake-Albina Thoroughbred Services.
While it’s common for the top-priced mares to be purchased by foreign interests (a point often bemoaned by racing fans who would prefer to see proven pedigrees stay in the United States), Keeneland January saw some of its most expensive mares find new homes in America. Aside from Ponche de Leon, three others of the five top-priced horses in the sale are also staying in the United States. Perhaps the most notable of these is Sweeter Still, an Irish-bred mare carrying a foal by top European sire Galileo. Both her pedigree and upcoming foal would be of keen interest to foreign buyers, but she was bought by Florida’s Royal Oak Farm for breeder Phyllis Wyeth, who plans to breed the mare to her Belmont Stakes-winning stallion Union Rags.
Keeneland officials theorized that in addition to momentum from last fall’s bullish September and November auctions, the decision-makers on local breeding farms are helping to keep the market competitive.
“We are hopefully looking at an extended era of profitability,” said Keeneland Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell. “The stallion masters have kept the lid on the majority of stud fees — other than those for breakout stallions, understandably. Everyone is doing their best to maintain a stable and gradually improving market, which gives breeders a better opportunity for profitability. “
It stands to reason that realistic pricing for stallion fees trickles down to increased profits for mare owners operating in the commercial market and enables them to add to their herd.
The Thoroughbred market has struggled to rebound since the recent economic downturn hit the commercial breeding industry. Sales began a strong rally late last year at Keeneland’s November auction, where 14 seven-figure horses sold and gross sales topped the auction’s previous edition halfway through the sale.
Increased strength doesn’t necessarily mean that owners of mediocre stock should be counting their chickens, however.
“It’s a fair market,” Russell noted during the January auction. “It’s not a crazy market. I think this is the new reality. We are in a market where if you bring a good horse to sell, you’ll get a fair price.”
The next major public auction will be Fasig-Tipton’s Kentucky Winter Mixed Sale in February, which was recently extended from one to two days. It will launch on Sunday, Feb. 9 and includes horses of all ages.