by Glenye Cain Oakford
The filly, a half sister to graded winners Hungry Island and Soaring Empire , sold to the Niarchos family. Bred by Emory Hamilton, the Feb. 25 filly was one of four yearlings to bring $1 million or more Monday at a session that continued a summer-long trend of positive sale news for breeders and consignors.
The opening day ended with 130 horses sold for $34,735,000, resulting in a $267,192 average with a $200,000 median. The buyback rate was 30.4%, down from last year's first-session figure of 34.2% but higher than the overall Book One rate last year, which was 28.7%.
Keeneland reformatted the auction this year, eliminating last year's nighttime select session in favor of a single Book One catalog covering the sale's first four days. Session-to-session comparisons effectively were impossible, given that last year's first session took place under a vastly different format, with only 132 horses in the catalog as part of a one-night select portion.
That opening select session sold 75 yearlings for $30,290,000, for a $403,867 average and $350,000 median. The buyback rate was 34%; there were 18 outs.
For more context, the average and median for Week One's four days overall last year were $202,829 and $150,000, respectively, which suggests this year's Week One average and median could be on the upswing.
"The market was very good today," Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said. "I thought it was very strong, competitive, spirited bidding with a wide range of buyers. And that was one of our goals, to get more buyers on the grounds to buy horses. We successfully did that."
The opening session brought buyers from around the globe. Before the auction, some consignors openly had worried that European auction participation would be light, due to a number of factors, including the allure of Europeans' own stallion base and European concern over the United States' comparatively lenient race-day medication policies.
British bloodstock agent Alan Cooper provided an early positive sign to the contrary when he bought Hip 19, the $1.5 million Medaglia d'Oro filly, who is out of the A.P. Indy winner Flying Passage. She will go to Europe, Cooper said.
The $1.5 million filly helped lift Gainesway's consignment to the top of the class Monday. Gainesway sold nine horses for leading gross of $4,515,000, averaging $501,667.
Leading consignor by average (three or more sold) was the Hill 'n' Dale agency, whose four yearlings averaged $568,750.
Others who bought seven-figure horses on the first day of the auction were Alberto Acosta of Northwest Stud in Florida, who spent $1.35 million for the Hill 'n' Dale's agency's Malibu Moon filly out of grade I winner Hollywood Story; Coolmore Stud, whose M.V. Magnier bid $1 million for Claiborne's War Front –Guide colt from the family of Departing and Zensational; and Nat Rea's Regis Farms, which paid $1.1 million for the Bedouin Bloodstock agency's Unbridled's Song colt out of Grade 1 winner Irish Smoke.
Rea, wearing a green John Deere cap and accompanied by agent Richard Hogan, kept a low profile at the sale, declining comment and waving photographers off. But he was a force to be reckoned with, buying four yearlings for $2.4 million at the first session as the day's second-leading purchaser.
Shadwell Stud was the leading buyer by gross expenditures, purchasing seven yearlings for $3,085,000.
The Keeneland September opener offered more evidence that the domestic market for young Thoroughbreds is alive and well, if selective. Such well-known American buyers as Whisper Hill Farm, Fox Hill Farm, Stonestreet Stables, Live Oak Plantation, Whitehorse Stables, Starlight Stables, Zayat Stables, and Centennial Farms were among United States-based buyers picking up yearlings.
Malibu Moon was the session's leading sire by gross, with nine sold for $3,550,000, but War Front led by average after selling six for an average price of $550,833.
The Keeneland September sale will continue through Sept. 21. Book One sessions will run through Sept. 12, with sessions starting each day at noon. Friday, Sept. 13, is a dark day, and the remainder of the sale sessions will begin at 10 a.m. EDT.