Keeneland’s January sale is, well, the January sale. It has always been considered to be more the last mixed sale of the previous year than the first sale of the new year. Its results are hard to measure from one year to the next due to varying factors, mainly the appearance or scratch of a few “name” horses or stock that are part of major dispersals.
We’ve held to that notion. However, after we roamed the pavilion and mixed it up a bit in the back ring during the five-day sale, the fall of the gavel after a horse had failed to gain a single bid was heard more often than we’d cared to imagine.
On days 1 and 2—Book 1 of the sale, mind you, and considered to be the best of the lot—there were eight no-bid horses. One mare was by a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner and in foal to a recent Breeders’ Cup winner. Three yearlings—two by Breeders’ Cup-winning stallions—failed to draw any action whatsoever.
The figures mounted on days 3 and 4 during Book 2 when 25 and 21 horses, respectively, were recorded as no-bids. Thirty-one horses during the sale’s final session were no-bids, bringing the sale’s total to 85. So, with 1,401 horses going through the ring, 6.1% of them were “no-bid” horses (and this doesn’t count the $1,000 RNAs).
They were all part of a 31.4% buy-back rate, higher than the 2016 sale’s 25%. As we know, the January sale is the January sale, a place to cherry pick a short yearling or shop for mares for incoming stallions, while many commercial breeders try to sweep out some stock they perhaps couldn’t move the year before.
However, at the 2016 January sale, the number of no-bid horses were six, one, nine, two, and 19 during a comparable five-day run. With 1,387 going through the sale, the 37 no bids were 2.7% of the sale.
A troubling trend? It sure looks like it.
We’ve read—and written for years—how polarizing the commercial bloodstock market has become. A doubling of the no-bid rate confirms that the costs are too high and the margins too thin in today’s environment. There simply isn’t enough in the budget to carry Thoroughbreds that can’t hold their own.
As Keeneland’s director of sales Geoffrey Russell told our Ron Mitchell: “Just because you breed a horse does not mean it needs to come to a horse sale.”
Which brings us to the foal crop. Stallion operators and broodmare owners should take a long, hard look at the upcoming breeding season.
As the Great Recession took the starch out of the Thoroughbred industry beginning in 2008, the foal crop ebbed to figures that had not seen since the 1960s.
The crop has been cut by one-third, from 29,609 in 2009 to an estimated 20,600 for 2016. According to The Jockey Club Fact Book, the foal crops of 2012 and 2013 were 21,440 and 21,377, respectively, with the last three estimated at 20,450, 20,600, and 20,600.
We’ve been proponents of seeing the foal crop reverse course, but realize there are still too many Thoroughbreds that no one is interested in buying. Growth for its own sake is not enough.