Here's a lagging indicator for the economy: the price of one-year-old thoroughbred race horses. This year, they're fetching huge piles of cash, in yet another sign that at least wealthy people are on the prowl for more expensive toys.

How do we know? This month's Keeneland yearling sale, the biggest auction of its kind, yielded gross sales that were 27.6 percent higher than last year -- the highest since 2008 -- and an average price per horse 17 percent higher than 2012. In absolute terms, that's $280,491,300 and $102,220, respectively, with 18 youngsters going for more than $1 million each. The biggest buyer was Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, who dropped $11.6 million on 27 horses.

Breeders and consignors told the Wall Street Journal that the additional dollars in the system represented buyers' discretionary income, since many of them are hobbyists.

The historical trends look a lot like the rest of the economy.

The industry has also been bouyed by a halt in the long fall of betting volumes, according to the latest statistics available from the Jockey Club:

(Jockey Club)
Betting in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. (Jockey Club)

Also, there have been fewer racehorses born and fewer races, though the prize money for each race is rising, which may partly reflect the fact that racetracks increasingly pull in revenues from gambling at adjoining casinos, rather than on races themselves.

(Jockey Club)
(Jockey Club)

Oh and here's the top seller from the auction, an unnamed colt that went for $2.5 million:

(Keeneland photo)