On January 7, the 5-year-old mare Abel Tasman stepped into the auction ring at the Keeneland sales pavilion in Lexington, KY. Two months removed from an 11th-place finish in the Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff, running last in by far the worst performance of her career, she was nonetheless the standout offering at Keeneland’s Horses of All Ages Sale.

And she didn’t disappoint: a bid of $3 million was the opening parry in a competition that ended with M.V. Magnier of Coolmore, a premier international racing and breeding operation, offering $5 million, a record for a broodmare prospect at the January sale.

Abel Tasman, ridden by Mike Smith, at Churchill Downs in 2017, winner of the Longines Kentucky Oaks. Photo by Diane Bondareff/AP Images for LonginesAP Images for Longines

During her 16-race career, the bay mare compiled a record of eight wins and four seconds, for earnings just shy of $2.8 million. In 2015, her breeder Clearsky Farms offered her at the Keeneland September yearling sale; she failed to meet her reserve, bringing a high bid of only $65,000. Clearsky was joined in ownership of Abel Tasman by China Horse Club International and was trained for the latter part of her career by Bob Baffert. She was voted the 2017 champion 3-year-old filly and is a finalist for the 2018 Eclipse for champion older mare.

“(It’s a lot of money), but she’s a queen, isn’t she?” Dermot Ryan, manager of Coolmore’s Ashford Stud near Lexington, told Keeneland. “They are very rare when they come across like that, animals like her. She had everything; she’d be anybody’s dream filly to own.”

The first major Thoroughbred auction of the year ended its four-day run having achieved the highest gross since 2008, $46,759,600, an increase of 33.6 percent over last year, and a record average of $51,048 per horse.

Behind the sale-topper, three mares sold for $700,000 or more, continuing the high demand for quality mares that Keeneland saw at its November sale of breeding stock, held just days after the 2018 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.

“This was a good continuation of the November Breeding Stock Sale,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales operations.

The standout mare at that sale was Lady Eli, sold in foal to War Front, who stands for a $250,000 fee at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky. The seven-year-old finished worse than second just once in 14 races, winning 10 of them, five of them Grade 1 races, and she topped the November sale when she was purchased by Kentucky’s John Sikura of Hill ‘n’ Dale for $4.2 million. She was followed closely by My Miss Sophia, also in foal to War Front and a graded stakes winner that sold for $4 million.

Lady Eli and Irad Ortiz Jr at Saratoga, after winning the Grade 1 Diana StakesNYRA/Susie Raisher

The 2018 auction season was also notable because it featured the first yearlings by 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. In 2017 his weanlings sold for an average of nearly $400,00, according to Bill Thomason, Keeneland’s president and CEO.

Cumulatively, 109 weanlings and yearlings by American Pharoah were offered at auction in 2018; 82 of them sold, for a gross of $31,645,000 and an average of $386,000, according to BloodHorse magazine’s sire lists. His first foals to race will hit the racetrack later this year.

American Pharoah stands at Ashford Stud in Kentucky for an undisclosed fee.

“At [the September sale], we doubled the number of horses that sold for $1 million,” said Thomason. He attributes the increase at least in part to the recent trend of big spenders joining forces to form partnerships.

“Folks are smart,” Thomason continued. “They’re spreading their money around, they’re hedging risk, and from a marketplace standpoint, they can take multiple bites at the apple and not get hung up at having $2 million in capital.”

“The yearling market is crazy. I mean it’s incredible,” said Mark Taylor, vice president of marketing and public sales operations for Taylor Made Sales Agency, which consigned Abel Tasman and which was the leading consignor at the sale. “We sold a Midnight Lute [colt] for ($120,000) and a Mshawish [colt] for ($100,000). It was twice my appraisals for those horses. That’s what the market says those horses are worth, so I think those buyers probably will make money (if they resell their purchases later this year). They were really good horses, but I thought…maybe we won’t get anywhere close to six figures, but we got there.”

“This sale exceeded our expectations,” said Keeneland’s Thomason. “It’s exciting for the entire industry.”



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