Weanlings toped the boards Thursday as Keeneland's November Breeding Stock Sale steamed through its third session.
An $850,000 War Front colt consigned by Nursery Place and a $750,000 Malibu Moon filly consigned by Van Meter Sales paced the session, which was fairly similar to last year's results for day three.
Thursday's session grossed $29,701,000 for 271 horses, a 5.4% increase from last year's third-day total of 255. The average price slipped, but by a margin so slight - less than 1% - it was all but irrelevant; the average fell from $110,465 to $109,598. Median dropped further but still finished at a reasonable $85,000, off 5.6% from last year's $90,000 at the same point. Session buy-backs also remained nearly level at 19.8%, down from 20% a year ago.
Cumulatively, the auction's first three days have sold 544 horses, as compared to 497 through last season's third session, and 2014's gross sales of $125,553,000 are running ahead of last year's by 9.5%. Average price was remarkably level through Thursday, moving just $10 ahead of last year's number at $230,796.
The median might be more telling about the market though, below the extreme upper cut and the upper-middle level, where consignors have noted some softer going. The median is 10.7% lower this year than at this point in 2013, $125,000 versus 2013's figure of $140,000.
The three-day cumulative buy-back figure was much the same as last year, rising slightly from 20.2% a year ago to 21.9%.
Brian Graves of Gainesway Farm, a frequent and astute pinhooking partner with farm owner Antony Beck, bid fearlessly for the War Front colt, a February 21 foal, and signed the ticket for an undisclosed partnership he called Clear Ridge Stables. Asked whether this half brother to Grade II-placed stakes winner Street Life would return to the auction ring, Graves didn't rule it out. "You never know," he said. "The stallion average is $550,000, and he had a high horse last year of $2.2 million, so there's a possibility you'll see it back in the auction."
Graves was unsurprised to have to pay $850,000 for a day-three weanling, given both the market strength for weanlings and the sirepower involved.
"Nice horses with that kind of stallion average, yeah, I could see having to pay that much, for sure," he said. "He was one of the nicest horses in the sales, and by a very good stallion, and they cost money."
Graves described the session-topping colt as "very light on his feet, very well balanced, muscular, something you just expect to get better and better."
Claiborne sire War Front was a forceful presence at the session: four of his get grossed $1,670,000, for an average price of $417,500, making him the day's leading sire by gross and average.
Lane's End sire Candy Ride was the day's leading covering sire by gross sales after five of his in-foal mares brought a combined $970,000. Another Lane's End stallion, Curlin, led by average (three or more sold) with a trio averaging $213,333.
McMahon & Hill Bloodstock led all buyers by gross Thursday, buying seven horses for $917,000. But Graves' aggressive bid for the War Front colt was enough to land Clear Ridge Stables as the day's second-ranked buyer by gross on that purchase alone; WinStar Farm led by average price (three or more bought) after picking up three horses for a $196,667 average.
Earlier in the day, Jason Litt and Alex Solis, standing in a doorway near the sale pavilion press box, bid $750,000 for the chestnut Malibu Moon filly, escaping a determined effort by Stonestreet agent John Moynihan. Tom VanMeter's VanMeter Sales agency consigned the Feb. 18 filly.
A daughter of the stakes-placed Unbridled's Song mare Life Lesson, she's a half sister to the Indian Charlie colt Sourcesandmethods, the dam's first runner. Sourcesandmethods broke his maiden in his third start this year when he nosed out One Lucky Step in a maiden special weight at Indiana Downs. VanMeter and Ricky Stivers bred Sourcesandmethods and the session's highest-priced filly in partnership.
"'Wow,' is all I can say," VanMeter said. "We liked her, but we're just dumbfounded. We just got the right two guys on her. Coming over here, I was like, 'She's a nice filly, we've gotta get $200,000.' Then I thought, 'We've kind of got the right people, so I'm hoping we get $250,000, and maybe we can get to $300,000.' But it was just like two tigers went after it. That was like the old days, like having Sheikh Mo and Magnier hook up. Who knows, when those things happen? The stars just aligned, and we're lucky it happened to us."
"It's been very strong," Graves said of the weanling market. "I've tried to be good and set limits, and it hasn't worked out too well for me this sale. It's been tough. It's competition with everybody in the marketplace: end-users, pinhookers, it's a lot of competition."
Two days after they sold the opening-day session-topper, $3.6 million Naples Bay, to Coolmore Stud, Claiborne Farm continued to reel off pricey mares, including three of the day's five most expensive mares. Claiborne ended the session as the top consignor by average sale price with five horses averaging $288,000.
Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm went to $450,000 for the consignment's Tapit mare Hummingbird Hill, in foal to their young stallion Blame. Hummingbird Hill is a half sister to Grade II-placed stakes winner Fifth Avenue and to stakes-placed Shoptate, and, importantly, she's bred very similarly to hot young sire Trappe Shot. Like him, she is by Tapit, and she's out of his half sister, the winning Dehere mare Shop Here.
Claiborne's Walker Hancock said the farm had expected at least $200,000 for her and pronounced them "very pleased" that the vigorous market had paid off so well.
Taylor Made Sales also sold a $450,000 mare in the Indian Charlie stakes winner I'm Mom's Favorite, who went to Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings. The 4-year-old, in foal to Union Rags, is out of the Storm Cat mare Charming Toutsie. I'm Mom's Favorite won last year's Miss Preakness Stakes, and this summer her half sister Charm City Girl was second in Monmouth's Desert Vixen Stakes. Charming Toutsie is out of Grade I winner and Grade I producer Tout Charmant, and she's a half sister to Grade I-placed Dancing House.
Taylor Made ended the day as the session's leading consignor by total sales, with 47 horses grossing $6,713,000. "I think it's been very strong," Taylor Made's Mark Taylor said. "Mares in all different spectrums of the market are strong if they've got some quality, The only weak spots I see are mares that are what I called middle-aged mares that haven't had any stakes horses yet, especially if they maybe have a late cover or aren't covered really well to a hot stallion. Those are tricky."
"But everything else, anything young or anything proven is really, really strong. Internally, our RNA rate has been very healthy, and I think the market in general has been good. I think there's a little bit of momentum building as we get further into it."
"Fasig-Tipton had a lot of the high-end mares but not a lot of middle-market mares; Book 1 here had a mix, and now it's just starting pick up. A lot of people are entering the market who kind of felt like they couldn't participate in the first few days," Taylor concluded.
Keeneland's November breeding stock sale continues through November 14, with each session starting at 10 a.m.
Extracts from BloodHorse/Keeneland (p)