Keeneland January: Final Thoughts

The Keeneland January horses of all ages auction is not a sale regarded as a trend-setter or a barometer of the commercial marketplace. Traditionally, it is an auction of mostly odds and ends, and most people don't point horses specifically for it. They sell there because they need the money or a horse wasn't ready for another auction. The catalog can vary widely in quality from year to year.

Nevertheless, the results reaffirmed those from late last year, which showed the market has taken a huge hit from the global financial crisis. Some people argue that owners are holding back their best horses - and there is plenty of evidence that that is the case -- but the results have been consistent, with drops in the 40%-50% range at all levels of the market.

This year's January sale had some interesting offerings - Horse of the Year Azeri, a white yearling colt, and a palomino 2-year-old filly - that spiced up the proceedings.

The buy-back of Azeri, at $4.4 million, wasn't a big surprise because Michael Paulson had set a world Thoroughbred auction record at Keeneland last September when he bought back her first foal, Vallenzeri, for $7.7 million. Owners have a right to do this under the rules of Thoroughbred sales, but these actions will make the future marketing attempts involving Azeri and her family much more difficult. Azeri attracted a crowd of onlookers, but there was little electricity. Most prospective buyers behaved more like spectators than intense bidders, and Vallenzeri's buy-back, no doubt, contributed to that.

As a reporter, I'm not really looking forward to Vallenzeri's appearance at the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training because of the possibility of a big build-up and another no sale result. I wish Michael Paulson (the trust that actually owns the horses, and the bank that considers the horses collateral for loans) would either set no reserve or a very reasonable one, let it be widely known, and then stick to it. Unfortunately for Azeri and Vallenzeri, they probably now will no longer be able to command the prices they deserve to bring because of the uncertainty about the owner's willingness to sell.

White Prince, the white yearling, sold for $60,000, but credit problems were later found, according to Keeneland, and the colt was returned to his breeder. Indications were that there was some confusion on the part of the bidder in thinking the price was $6,000, not $60,000, and credit hadn't been established at the latter price's level. The palomino, Splash of Vanilla, attracted a $14,000 bid and will go in a racing stable.

There were complaints from onlookers that these unusually colored horses were able to sell for good prices, even though their bloodlines weren't strong, while other horses with better pedigrees and of more common colors were overlooked by bidders. In such hard times, it looked frivolous. But, in my opinion, it gave some dreary sessions a little boost, and if those horses race it will be fun to see them at the racetrack. The palomino wasn't a bad-looking individual even though her pedigree was lacking in black-type, and the co-breeder said the reason he brought her to Keeneland was because he thought she looked athletic. A little frivolity isn't a bad thing, once in a while, when the mood is so grim.

What do you think about white and palomino horses? Are they good things or are they a waste of time for racing and sales? What about Azeri and her offspring? How should they be marketed now? And what do you think they are worth?

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