Solid at the Core - by Eric Mitchell

The median tells the tale of the market’s health at the Keeneland September sale to date.

Forget the number of horses that sell for $1 million or more, even though they provide the sizzle to the world’s largest yearling market. Million-dollar sale horses are like home runs in baseball and 98-yard touchdown plays in football—they’re exciting to watch but they don’t give you the true picture of a team’s overall quality. And in the case of Keene-land’s Book 1, they represented only 13 horses out of 473 sold. Overall they are not as meaningful to the market as the median.

Medians provide a sense of depth.

Reactions among buyers and sellers were still mixed at the conclusion of selling on the first day at Keeneland. Then the bidding ramped up, and many buyers were finding themselves sitting on a losing bid for a lot of horses they really, really wanted. The most high-profile example was D. Wayne Lukas and owner Willis Horton getting beat on a $1.6 million half brother to classic winner Oxbow. Confident they’d secured the Unbridled’s Song colt for $1.55 million, they watched as Mandy Pope pushed the bidding up another notch and took the yearling home.

“Well, I was wanting him pretty bad, I thought,” Horton said after the sale Sept. 9. “But I guess I wasn’t wanting him as bad as somebody else.”

Starlight Stable’s Jack Wolf faced the same struggles throughout the remainder of Book 1.

After the first day Wolf said, “It was very difficult.”

Book 1 produced gross sales of more than $142.1 million, about 7% off the gross sales from Book 1 of last year despite consignors selling 13.4% fewer horses than they did in 2013. The median tracked 15.7% ahead of last year at $240,000 and was still ahead of last year by the end of Book 2.

There is depth in the market. People see incentives to being players in Thoroughbred racing, and those who are already involved see opportunities in investing more. Last year Frank Brothers and Starlight purchased 11 yearlings for an average of $229,500. Through the sixth session (Sept. 14) this year, they had already purchased 13 for an average of $306,500. Maverick Racing bought five yearlings in 2013 for an average of $228,000 and through Sept. 14 had purchased 10 for an average of $270,000. Sheikh Mohammed’s agent John Ferguson bought nine yearlings a year ago for an average of $308,300 and this year he’s taken home 22 for an average of almost $358,200.

While a smaller, higher-quality foal crop has certainly provided more depth to the quality of yearlings being offered, what’s driving the demand are expanded opportunities for owners through improved purses in New York and California plus growing programs in Maryland and Ohio.

The marketplace not only sets the value of bloodstock, it also is a barometer of optimism for the racing industry.

Right now the Keeneland sale could not offer the industry a sunnier tale. 


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