The Keeneland September yearling sale will test the strength of the Thoroughbred marketplace's recovery with both quantity and quality during its 10-session run that begins Sept. 10 in Lexington. Even though the number of horses cataloged is down 16.6%—from 4,319 a year ago to 3,604—the auction is still the largest sale of its kind in the world.
Based on the results seen at other yearling auctions in 2012, "there is a good market for a good horse in the upper ranges," said Walt Robertson, Keeneland's vice president of sales. "How strong it's going to be at the very top, only time will tell. But I feel like the market will be pretty good in the $300,000 to $700,000 range. There are a lot of people who can play there, and we've had tremendous activity (in the sale barns) from buyers from a lot of different places."
Two days before the auction's start, John Ferguson, representing Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, and Rick Nichols, representing Dubai's deputy ruler, Sheikh Hamdan, were on Keeneland's grounds inspecting yearlings. Represenatives of Coolmore Stud also were active as were Florida-based pinhookers Ciaran Dunne, Becky Thomas, Randy Hartley, and Dean De Renzo. Kentucky-based bloodstock agent Chris Brothers and the team from Hidden Brook Farm also were busy searching for young racing prospects.
"There has been a steady stream of lookers," reported Teresa Little of Romans Racing and Sales. "We've had a lot of positive comments about our horses and everybody seems to be in a fairly good mood. I've seen a lot of end users here so far."
Dunne was pleased with the yearlings he had seen.
"Physically, they're very good and the pedigrees match up," he said. "You go from consignment to consignment and every consignor seems to be loaded this year. I think this sale could be unreal."
Bloodstock agent Steve Young also was impressed with the stock.
"This is a nice bunch of horses," he said. "They're bred to be good, and they look good. I think the market is going to be solid because there are a lot of owners who are more optimistic about horse racing than some of the people in the press."
In a format change, the September sale will begin with one Monday select session that will start at 4 p.m. (EDT). Last year and in 2010, the auction kicked off with nighttime select sessions on Sunday and Monday.
"Before we ever started looking at horses this year we set out to do it (the select portion of the sale) in one day," Robertson said. "Starting on a Monday afternoon on what is a dark day at most tracks gives many trainers ample time to get here, and the book is not so large that they can't get completely through it early on Monday. The afternoon start also gives both buyers and sellers a chance to get done and eat at a decent hour so they handle the next day of the sale."
There are only 132 horses in the select session. The number is the lowest total since Keeneland officials decided to begin the September sale with a select section in 1989.
'I'm in the camp that would like them (Keeneland officials) to just put books one and two (of the catalog) together and not have a select session," said Craig Bandoroff of Denali Stud. "There's not the differential between the select horses (in book one) and the book two horses that there used to be (in quality). We don't need to tell the buyers which ones they (the elite yearlings) are; they'll find them."
But Bret Jones of Airdrie Stud doesn't want to see the select portion of the auction disappear.
"Sex sells and an opening session that is select is sexy," he said. "If you put on the right kind of show, have the right kind of mindset, and create the right kind of momentum, it can be a major positive."
Horses cataloged for the select session include nine yearlings from the final crop of 1992 Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, who was North America's leading sire by progeny earnings in 2003 and 2006. Six other A.P. Indy offspring are scheduled to be offered later in the auction.
While the Thoroughbred marketplace in general rebounded in 2011 after four years of downturns, the Keeneland September sale specifically has been on an upswing since 2010. Its gross, average, and median all have increased for two straight years. Those figures reached $223,487,800; $76,511; and $30,000, respectively, in 2011. Last year, the median price in the select sessions of $300,000 equaled a record for that portion of the sale.
The 2012 edition of the auction will run through Sept. 21, with a break from selling Sept. 14.