Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale, the most important auction of its kind in the world, closed Friday with gross sales of $203 million, the highest for the sale since 2016, and a record median of $37,000 to signal a resumption of the pre-pandemic bull markets.
Momentum from Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale continued to bolster confidence in the market and demand for Thoroughbreds, spurring healthy competition for breeding stock among a deep buying bench as evidenced by the 82 percent clearance rate. Highlighting the auction, held Nov. 10-19, was the sale of seven horses for more than $1 million each, led by Grade 1 winner Paris Lights for $3.1 million, and an $800,000 filly by Frankel who is the top-priced weanling sold at public auction in North America this year.
“Excitement for racing and confidence in the future of our sport globally are positive trends for the entire horse industry,” Keeneland President and CEO Shannon Arvin said. “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.”
Buoyant trade throughout the 10-day November Sale fueled double-digit growth over 2020, when the auction was held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Gross receipts of $203,585,500 increased 34.81 percent from last year’s $151,017,300. Keeneland surpassed gross sales for the entire 2020 November Sale on the fifth day of the 2021 auction. This year, 2,470 horses sold through the ring compared to 2,197 in 2020.
“There is exceptional depth and strength to the market. Quality is selling at a premium, and demand is across the board without being overheated,” Keeneland Vice President of Sales Tony Lacy said. “This sale is not an anomaly; sales are strong around the world. There is a positivity surrounding the sport right now and a real desire to own racehorses. Prize money and partnerships have invigorated the yearling market. When you have a vibrant yearling market, it is viable to breed these horses and have a market that will sustain it. We as an industry must challenge ourselves to keep this enthusiasm as we move forward.”
“It’s been very good (the market),” WinStar Farm President, CEO and Racing Manager Elliott Walden said. “We’ve tried to buy some and haven’t been successful and the ones we’ve sold, sold very well. It’s a sellers’ market right now, and it’s good for everybody. It’s good to regenerate dollars and it’s good for people to get inventory and have that appetite. The fundamentals are good on the racing side. Purses are good; it makes sense to buy horses. The economy is doing very well right now, but I think the fundamentals of owning a racehorse are there finally. It’s been a long time.”
Cumulative average price of $82,423 for the November Sale represented a 19.91 percent rise over last year’s $68,738.
Cumulative median price rose 60.87 percent from $23,000 to $37,000, exceeding the record of $35,000 recorded in 2005 and equaled in 2006-2007 and 2013-2014.
“The median is a good guide of the health of the market generally and the middle market in particular,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Cormac Breathnach said. “We’ve seen record medians in September and again in November, and it’s very gratifying. The median and the RNA rate often tie well together. A higher median and a lower RNA rate show that there is depth of the buying bench, energy through the sale into later books – as people get pushed – and an appetite for horses.”
Robust trade at the November Sale was fueled by competition among a deep and diverse buying bench as domestic and foreign buyers stretched their budgets to acquire quality horses at all levels of the market. The diversity of buyers was reflected in the fact that the 41 horses sold for $500,000 or more were purchased by 30 different interests.
Domestic buyers continued to flex their spending muscle as established breeders including Spendthrift Farm, Claiborne Farm, Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Mt. Brilliant Farm and Winchell Thoroughbreds bought with confidence. Prominent owners such as Bill and Susan Casner, who have not been as active in recent years, made significant purchases during the November Sale.
“The health of the mare market in particular has been really encouraging because people are investing for the future,” Lacy said. “Many of them are established breeders who are doubling down. This is discretionary income, not borrowed money. It is actual money that’s being invested.”
Spendthrift Farm paid the sale-topping price of $3.1 million for Paris Lights, a Grade 1-winning filly by Curlin who was consigned by ELiTE, agent. The 4-year-old daughter of the winning Bernardini mare Paris Bikini is from the family of Broodmare of Year Better Than Honour, Grade 2 winner Smolensk and Grade 3 winners America and First Captain.
Paris Lights was one of 15 horses supplemented to Book 1. Another supplement, Look Me Over, received a significant update to her catalog page immediately before the sale when her half-brother, Corniche, won the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and became the presumptive champion 2-year-old male. Look Me Over sold for $1.2 million to Mt. Brilliant Farm.
Phil Schoenthal, agent for Matt Dorman’s D. Hatman Thoroughbreds, paid $800,000 for the weanling filly by champion British runner and leading sire Frankel who is a half-sister to Group 1 winner Arizona (IRE) and Grade 2 winner Nay Lady Nay (IRE). Consigned by Four Star Sales, agent, the filly is out of the English Channel mare Lady Ederle. She is from the family of European champion Dabirsim and Group 1 winner Bright Generation (IRE).
Meanwhile, the success of American bloodlines globally enhanced the worldwide appeal of the November Sale and contributed to a resurgence in international participation. Buyers from 23 countries, including Japan, England, Ireland, France, Australia, Turkey, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, participated in the sale.
“With travel restrictions lifting in time for the sale, it has been refreshing to see some people who’ve not been here – not just for several years but sometimes a decade or more,” Lacy said. “Keeneland is a global marketplace and one of the key sources of equine stock in the world. The fact that people were able to attend in person was very important. The sale had the feel of 10-15 years ago when there was very vibrant international participation. It is one of the things we want to focus on for the future.”
Japanese buyers were a major presence, energized by the success of Japanese horses at the recent Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Maker’s Mark Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner Loves Only You (JPN) was bred by the Northern Farm of longtime Keeneland patron Katsumi Yoshida, who bought her dam, the Storm Cat mare Loves Only Me, for $900,000 at the 2009 November Sale. Loves Only You sold as a yearling in her native country for $1.4 million.
In Book 1, Yoshida acquired two mares with American pedigrees. He spent $850,000 on Lucky Dime, a half-sister to champion Mitole and Grade 2 winner and classic-placed Hot Rod Charlie in foal to Medaglia d’Oro, and $800,000 on Grade 2 winner Horologist.
Masahiro Miki of Japan was the sale’s leading buyer, spending $3,675,000 for three horses in Book 1. He paid $2.3 million on the second-highest-priced horse, Pink Sands, a Grade 2-winning daughter of Tapit who is carrying her first foal by Into Mischief. Consigned by Gainesway, agent, the 6-year-old mare is out of Grade 1 winner Her Smile, by Include.
Other prominent buyers from Japan included Ever Union Shokai, which purchased 2021 Grade 1 Gamely winner Maxim Rate for $1.2 million, along with J.S. Company Ltd. and Shadai Farm.
“American dirt bloodlines are so valuable around the world and contribute to stud books in various racing jurisdictions,” Breathnach said. “We are really privileged and fortunate to be able to represent that market to the world here at Keeneland with the support of the breeders and consignors that send us such quality stock. International participation is very important to us.”
The November Sale’s second-leading buyer was John and Susan Sykes’s Woodford Thoroughbreds of Florida, who spent $3,515,000 for 14 in-foal broodmares. Woodford paid $400,000 each for two mares carrying foals from the first crop of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner and Horse of the Year Authentic, the sale’s leading covering sire by gross.
A total of 20 mares in foal to Authentic sold for $7.84 million, led by Achalaya, dam of Grade 1 winner Casa Creed and Grade 3 winner Chess’s Dream. Thirty Year Farm purchased her for $725,000 from the Gainesway consignment.
Lane’s End supported multiple Grade 1 winner Code of Honor, who enters stud at the farm in 2022, by purchasing 19 mares for $2.55 million under Code of Honor LLC/L.E.B., agent.
The weanling market was extremely competitive with pinhookers and end-users both actively involved. A weanling led Day 2 when Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier spent $625,000 for Just Before Dawn, a colt by undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify. Lane’s End, agent, consigned the colt, a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Moonshine Memories from the family of Horse of the Year Favorite Trick and classic winner Tiz the Law.
The leading sire of weanlings by gross was Munnings, whose 21 weanlings sold through the ring for $3,064,000. Sires represented by their first crops of weanlings were led by Grade 1 winner Audible and by champions Mitole and Vino Rosso. Weanlings by such young sires as Gun Runner, Constitution and Liam’s Map also were popular.
“The young sires have created a lot of excitement for the future among breeders,” Breathnach said. “For instance, seeing the success of horses from Gun Runner’s first season gives people confidence in his potential and also in the other very talented young sires in the pipeline.”
By average (with three or more sold), Into Mischief led rankings of both covering sires and weanling sires. Six mares in foal to the stallion averaged $887,500, and his seven weanlings averaged $402,143.
The November Sale also featured the first of an annual draft of broodmares and broodmare prospects from successful breeders and owners Gary and Mary West. Paramount Sales was agent for the consignment, which grossed $784,000 for 26 horses.
Online bidding once again proved a popular tool for buyers as 253 horses sold over the internet for $11,697,000. Of particular note is the fact that online activity spiked during the second week of the auction.
The leading consignor at the November Sale for the fifth consecutive year and 25th time since 1987 was Taylor Made Sales Agency, which sold 236 horses for $23,080,200. Taylor Made’s most expensive offering was the Scat Daddy mare Downside Scenario, the dam of Grade 2 winner Mutasaabeq who is in foal to Into Mischief. She sold for $1.15 million to Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings.
Keeneland debut winner Strava brings $825,000 to lead horses of racing age on final day
Closing day of the November Sale began with an offering of 148 cataloged head of breeding stock that was topped by Miss Floki, a 3-year-old winning daughter of Ghostzapper out of Grade 1 winner Cotton Blossom, who sold for $105,000 to Douglas Arnold, agent. Consigned by Four Star Sales, agent for the Estate of William D. Graham’s Windhaven Farms, she was cataloged as a racing or broodmare prospect.
The session concluded with a segment dedicated to horses of racing age in a format Keeneland offered for the first time. A total of 127 horses sold for $8,029,000.
The $825,000 high seller was Strava, a 2-year-old son of Into Mischief who won his Oct. 9 career debut at Keeneland. Denny Crum purchased the colt, who was consigned by WinStar Racing, agent, and is out of the winning Grade 1-placed mare Catch My Drift, by Pioneerof the Nile. (Click here for a video of Strava in the sales ring.)
Crum, who won two NCAA championships as coach of the University of Louisville’s men’s basketball team, has been involved in racing for some time. With his purchase of Strava, he reunites with Dallas Stewart, who trained his multiple Grade 2 winner Nasty Storm and conditioned Strava before the sale.
“I’ve decided at my age there is no reason to save any money,” Crum, 84, said. “So I wanted a good horse, and I think we got one. (Strava) cost us a little more than I thought he would, but still (he) is the best horse here.”
Stewart said Strava would go to Fair Grounds.
Gold for Kitten, a 3-year-old stakes-placed filly by Kitten’s Joy, sold for $350,000 to Vineyard Racing. Out of the winning Hard Spun mare Olympic Avenue, she is from the family of Grade 3 winner Valid Expectations and stakes winner Successful Native. Gold for Kitten was consigned by St George Sales, agent, as a racing or broodmare prospect.
M. Maker, agent, paid $335,000 for Stolen Base, a 2-year-old colt by Bodemeister who last raced in the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Winner of his debut at Saratoga, the colt was second in Keeneland’s G2 Castle & Key Bourbon in October. He was consigned by Bluewater Sales, agent.
Selling for $325,000 was Realm of Law, a 3-year-old War Front colt who won an Oct. 15 maiden race at Keeneland. BBA Ireland purchased the colt, whose dam is Grade 2 winner Filimbi, by Mizzen Mast, and is from the family of Grade 1 winners Flute and Weep No More. He was consigned by WinStar Racing, agent for Juddmonte.
Lacy said presenting horses of racing age in their own segment on the final day of the November Sale had advantages.
“Breeding stock are not displaced in the flow of the sale, and it is perfectly positioned on the racing calendar as stables move south for the winter,” he said. “Owners have young stock coming through, and they want to trade out some of their stock that maybe isn’t working for their program or they want to capitalize on what they’ve got.”
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