There were 11 different buying entities who purchased November’s 18 seven-figure horses - compared to the 14 who sold in 2013. Included among them was new shooter China Horse Club, which came away with the $2.8-million Iotapa (Afleet Alex) and the $1.5-million Last Full Measure (Empire Maker).
— Geoffrey Russell / Keeneland Director of Sales

The 2014 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale concluded its 11-day run Friday in Lexington, and the prognosticators who eyed a stable market going in couldn't have gotten nearer to the bulls-eye. With one more session and 338 more horses through the ring from last year, a total of 2,512 horses sold for $205,899,500. The average of $81,966 was up just 2.1%, while the median of $35,000 was unchanged. The cumulative RNA rate was 21.82%. Last year, it was an exceptional 14.5%.

Last year's sale, boosted by the dispersal of E. Paul Robsham Stable, saw 2,457 horses sold for $197,189,000, an average of $80,256. The 2013 auction was toped by the $4-million Awesome Maria, a member of the Robsham dispersal.

Topping the sale was the $3.9-million Aloof (Ire) (Galileo), a group-winning daughter of champion Airwave (GB) (Air Express) who sold to Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm. Aloof was offered in foal to War Front by Paramount Sales as Hip 246.

Also in foal to War Front was the sale's second-highest lot, the $3.6-million Naples Bay (Giant's Causeway), who was hammered down to Coolmore's M.V. Magnier. Claiborne Farm consigned the MGSW half to Medaglia d'Oro as Hip 156.

Those mares helped set the stage for a lively week and a half of trading.

"We talk about it all the time - if we start out well in Book 1, it will carry through the rest of the sale, and this sale more than any other proved it," said Keeneland Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell. "The strength and depth in Book 1 definitely carried through."

There were 11 different buying entities who purchased November's 18 seven-figure horses - compared to the 14 who sold in 2013. Included among them was new shooter China Horse Club, which came away with the $2.8-million Iotapa (Afleet Alex) and the $1.5-million Last Full Measure (Empire Maker).

"We saw new buyers play at the top end, which is very good for our industry, and we saw regular commercial breeders reinvesting in our industry, and at a high level," said Russell. "We had 18 million-dollar horses, and it's interesting to note that they were pretty evenly split between domestic and international buyers. Before, maybe they weighted it a little more toward the international side, so to see the domestic bench stand up and get involved is encouraging."

Don Alberto Corp. was November's leading buyer for the second straight year. It purchased nine horses for $8,575,000, an average of $952,778.

One of the highlights of the auction was the sale of a North American record weanling. A Tapit great-granddaughter of Serena's Song (Rahy) from SW Serena's Cat (Storm Cat) brought a whopping $3-million winning bid from Bridlewood Farm's George Isaacs. The filly was bred by Hill 'n' Dale Farm and Dell Ridge Farm and was consigned by Hill 'n' Dale as Hip 402.

"We use the phrase collector's item," said Russell. "That Tapit foal will never see the light of another auction ring. This was the only opportunity people would have to buy her, and when people understood that, they stepped up. It's the highest-price 'racing prospect' we sold this year - higher than the two $2.2-million colts we sold at September - and it was two end users going head-to-head." Mandy Pope was the direct underbidder.

There were two primary takeaways from November, said Russell. First, quality continues to sell. Second, breeders are beginning to take a long-term view of the market.

"We had two very good Septembers in 2012 and 2013 and a stable market this year, and that has encouraged people to invest long term," he said. "The great thing is that people want to own a mare now. In past years, they didn't want to. Even some people who got out of the business got back in. And we keep on talking about it, but quality sells."

"Here, it was quality in the millions, quality in the $100,000s, quality in the $50,000s. At every level, quality is selling. On Thursday, we had a six-figure horse on the second-to-last day, because she was a nice mare, and people are willing to give money for that. Anything with quality is bringing a premium price, no matter what level of the market you're talking about. That's very good news for us."

Top weanlings were once again prized commodities, with an established group of astute pinhookers battling with ever-growing bench of end-users.

"The foal market was ultra-competitive," said Russell. "The pinhookers I talked to say they've never worked harder, bid more and got less."

Tom Thornbury, Keeneland's associate director of sales, weighed in. "Last year was exceptionally strong, and initially, that may have scared off some pinhookers. But the yearling market's been so good, and the subsequent 2-year-old market's been so good, that people have been encouraged to step in at a higher level. Gainesway's Brian Graves told me that he had limits, and exceeded them several times. Several others said they'd see us back in Keeneland January because they didn't get their orders filled. It goes back to quality - really good horses are bringing good money. I saw a lot of end-users here buying. Maybe they're trying to get a jump on the market and try to buy those quality horses now."

Keeneland now moves forward to its January auction, set to run Monday, January 12 through Friday, January 16. The next bloodstock sale on the calendar is Fasig-Tipton's Midlantic Winter Mixed Sale, to be held at Timonium on December 8.

For complete Keeneland November results,

Extract from Thorougbred Daily News / Keeneland (p)