Small Fall - By Dan Liebman

There appears to be a “glimmer of hope,” Keeneland associate director of sales Tom Thornbury said Nov. 16. For those who make their living breeding and selling Thoroughbreds, that glimmer shines brightly as they try to make sense of the bloodstock market.

Thornbury’s comments were echoed by several consignors who saw positive signs in the results of the Keeneland November sale, in particular that the gross was “only” down about 10% through six of 13 days of selling and that the RNA rate was 20.6% compared to 32.8% a year ago.

The Keeneland sale saw a dramatic decrease from 2007 to 2008, when the global economy took a real toll and the gross plummeted 45.5%. In two years’ time the gross receipts of $340 million in 2007, an auction record, will fall this year to roughly $160 million.

Through Nov. 15 the cumulative gross for North American Thoroughbred auctions of horses of all ages was $637.7 million. Projecting THAT number through the end of the year shows a gross of about $660 million, a drop of 32% from last year when the total year’s gross was $972.8 million. The gross in 2007 was $1.2 billion.

You would have to go back to 1997 to see a gross for all North American sales near the projection for 2009; in 1997 the figure was $693 million.

The decrease in the number of horses bought back indicates an acceptance of the marketplace, as well as the thought that many horses had to be sold to satisfy creditors.

It should be noted that at the Keeneland sale the dispersal of Overbrook Farm, again through day six, accounted for just under 20% of the gross. No one likes selling into a down market, but the fact is the Overbrook horses stood out at a time when many breeders are holding on to top mares and foals. The 93 Overbrook horses averaged $297,000, compared to $108,000 for the entire sale. W.T. Young built a premier breeding operation at Overbrook, and breeders seized the opportunity to buy into the farm’s female families.


The definition of irony arrived this week in the form of a press release announcing that Ro Parra’s Millennium Farms in Central Kentucky was selling a portion of 30 mares to Moon Lake Farm in Louisiana and relocating the mares there (read online at Parra had previously announced he was moving some stallions to Moon Lake.

The ironic part is that the release was distributed by Damon Thayer, who owns Thayer Communications and Consulting and counts Parra among his clients. Thayer, a member of the Kentucky State Senate, has angered many Kentucky horsemen by refusing to work toward the passage of legislation to allow slot machines at the state’s racetracks.

“We will likely move more mares over time,” said Parra. “We feel that the Kentucky program is not as competitive as other regional programs like the one in Louisiana.”
Parra is the type of person we need in the Thoroughbred industry. He made money as an executive with Dell computers, started in Texas, and moved to Kentucky. That one of Thayer’s clients is moving mares and stallions out of Kentucky to a state bolstered with slots revenue, is, well, the ultimate in irony.


Racing lost a Hall of Fame member Nov. 16 when trainer Bobby Frankel died at age 68 after a battle with leukemia. Frankel began with claimers and rose to the top of his profession, in the process moving from his native New York to California.

To some, Frankel’s personality was an acquired taste, but to all, his training prowess was easily recognized. He had a special way with horses, and, in fact, all animals, being a true dog lover as well.

Two statistics tell you all you need to know about how good a trainer Frankel was: He saddled the winners of more than 160 grade I races, and since the Eclipse Awards began in 1971 only one trainer, Bobby Frankel, has won five times.

Recent Posts

More Blogs