Bill Oppenheim: Kentucky November

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War Front

By Bill Oppenheim

There weren’t too many people from out of town who came for the Breeders’ Cup and stayed for the whole three-week Kentucky experience, finishing with Keeneland Book 6 Friday. Keeneland CEO Bill Thomason and his team of hundreds no doubt hope to sleep in this morning after pulling off the unprecedented logistical challenge of hosting the Breeders’ Cup, followed by the 12-day Keeneland November Sale, with Fasig-Tipton’s one-day sale, which still grossed $43-million in spite of being down from last year, on the Sunday in between, two weeks ago today.

One of the attractions of holding the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland was no travel day between the Breeders’ Cup and the November sales; to prepare for the sale literally while the Breeders’ Cup was taking place up the hill presented unique challenges, but the Keeneland team’s preparation was such that the transition was as seamless as it could have been. The Breeders’ Cup in Lexington was an even bigger success than anyone had dared to hope, and the preparation of both the Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland teams will be a template for the future. The whole thing was a world-class experience.

Then we got down to the business of the sales. Fasig was hit with some high-profile withdrawals, and when you have a small catalogue–just 4% of the horses catalogued in Kentucky November’s 13 days of selling–a few not turning up can make a big difference. With one more catalogued than in 2014, Fasig sold 16 fewer horses, dropped $20-million in gross, and 20% in average from their 2014 renewal. Just 92, or 46.2% of the 199 catalogued were listed as sold, down from 54.5% the previous year.

Though Fasig’s one-day sale for the most part constitutes a part of the top of the market, the 4,476 catalogued and 2,575 sold (57.5% of those catalogued) at Keeneland November obviously constitute the vast majority of Kentucky’s November sale market. Keeneland grossed $218,959,400, a gain of 6% over last year’s sale, and averaged $85,033, a rise of 4%, though the 57.5% clearance rate from the catalogue was down about 5% from last year. So Keeneland was up $11-million, but with Fasig being down by $20-million, when we combine the two to describe the entire Kentucky November market, the number sold was up by 2%, the combined gross was down by 3% (about $7-million), and the average dropped by 4%, from $102,892 last year to $98,472. Nonetheless, the description of the major 2015 Thoroughbred markets as somewhere between stable and static continues to look about right.

I think all of us analysts have just about drilled it into everybody’s head now that you have to be careful with mixed sales results, as the composition of the catalogues–the mares and fillies available–can change quite significantly from year to year. The yearling sales provide a more stable population to analyze (see the Weekly Sales Ticker), but we thought we’d take a look at the weanling market in Kentucky to see what we learn from that. Brianne Stanley compiled the attached small table from the sales company websites plus TDN. They do tell a couple of stories, with conflicting pointers.

The good news is that, since 2013, the gross for Kentucky November foals (of which 95% sell at Keeneland) is up by 23%, to $69.7-million this year, and the average is up 25%, to $79,202. The bad news is that the number catalogued has also risen by 23%, but the number sold has actually dropped by 2%. Between withdrawals and not-solds, the clearance rate from the catalogues has dropped from 62% two years ago to 46% this year; not good. Foals are either bought by pinhookers or end-users, and the fact that the number sold has not grown at all suggests there are no more pinhookers or no more end users than there were two years ago–but there are 23% more foals on the market. It’s further evidence that growth in the North American Thoroughbred market, at least, has stalled. Historically when the horse market has recovered from a deep plunge it has shown sustained growth, for example for 10 consecutive years from 1997-2006. But from this last recession it appears the pool of buyers shrunk nearly as fast as the foal crop, so there was a good recovery to a certain point, but now it’s stalled. The pool of money spent has increased, but the number of players, apparently, has not.

Sires’ weanling averages, at the North American mixed sales anyway, tend to reflect smaller numbers, usually single-digit numbers. A look at the TDN Intstatistics list of leading North American sires by weanling average (click here) confirms this: War Front averaged $2,081,250, but for just four weanlings. Tapit averaged $595,000 for eight; Medaglia D’Oro averaged $480,000 for two. Only three star sires among the 15 which averaged $150,000 or more had more than 10 weanlings sell: Pioneerof The Nile (14, avg $212,142); Scat Daddy (17, avg $185,294); and Curlin (11, avg $160,909).

I should say ‘among the 16′, because Ashford’s Declaration of War, who stood at Coolmore in Ireland in 2014, then moved to Ashford in 2015, is actually the leading first-crop sire now standing in North America by weanling average, as four foals from his Irish-sired crop averaged $295,000 at Keeneland, including an $800,000 filly out of Hanky Panky, a Group-placed Galileo half-sister to Giant’s Causeway and You’resothrilling. Because he had one foal registered in December 2014, The Jockey Club Information Systems’ file does not show him as an F2015 sire, so we’re in the process of getting that manually corrected. The F2015 sires which stood in North America in 2014 and didn’t have 2014 foals registered were led by Claiborne’s Orb (16, avg $120,312), Darley’s Animal Kingdom (9, avg $110,777), and WinStar’s Paynter (11, avg $101,556), followed by Taylor Made’s Graydar (15, avg $90,066) and Calumet’s Oxbow (5, avg $89,000)(click here–North American Freshman Sires of Weanlings).

Leading first-year covering sire was Airdrie’s Cairo Prince, who had the good fortune to be bred this year to Runhappy’s dam, the Broken Vow mare Bella Jolie. She went through the ring at Keeneland for $1.6-million, and contributed about 85% of the revenue for all eight mares in foal to Cairo Prince, who thus averaged $231,437. Three Chimneys’ Will Take Charge had nine mares in foal average $143,888, followed by Lane’s End’s Noble Mission (17, avg $93,470) and Coolmore Ashford’s Verrazano (13, avg $93,307), in pretty much a dead-heat for third.

The European foal sales kick off tomorrow at Goffs; over the next three weeks there are 16 more foals by Declaration of War (War Front) catalogued in the three major European Foal or Mixed sales, which finish the second week in December. According to a table published in Friday’s Racing Post Breeding Stock Sales supplement, there are also 33 foals from the first crop by Coolmore’s Camelot (Montjeu); 34 by Darley’s Dawn Approach (New Approach); and 10 by then-Cheveley Park’s (now Haras du Quesnay’s) Intello (Galileo), who were the three European stallions besides Declaration of War to debut for 25,000 or more in 2014. The market will also be asked to judge and absorb 69 foals by Darley Kildangan’s Epaulette (Commands); 59 by Tweenhills’ Havana Gold (Teofilo); 52 each by Cheveley Park’s Lethal Force (Dark Angel) and Tally-Ho’s Society Rock (Rock of Gibraltar); and 51 by Ballyhane’s Red Jazz (Johannesburg). We’ll let you know how all that went when this column returns, which will be Tuesday, Nov. 24. Our days will be pretty irregular for the next few weeks as we try to fit into the upcoming sales schedule.

Bill Oppenheim may be contacted at bopp@erb.com (please cc TDN management at suefinley@thoroughbreddailynews.com). Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/billoppenheim.

 

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