The Keeneland September yearling sale experienced what pinhooker Hoby Kight described as a “feeding frenzy” during its fifth session Sept. 15 in Lexington. Bursts of enthusiastic bidding were common as two horses sold for seven-figure amounts that were the second- and third-highest prices of the auction so far.
In addition, during the last session before a one-day break from selling Sept 16, the gross revenue grew 46.5% to $34,050,000. The average price increased 38.1% to $162,873, and the median price rose 30% to $130,000.
The buy-back rate dropped from 29.9% last year to 25.9%. The number of horses sold increased from 197 to 209.
“It was a great session today any way you slice it,” said Walt Robertson, Keeneland’s vice president of sales. “This year, through five sessions, we are up by more than $3 million in gross from last year through six sessions ($141,987,500), which I think is absolutely phenomenal.”
So far, six horses have sold for $1 million or more compared to three for the entire auction in 2010 and all six this year have gone to domestic shoppers even though the American economy continues to struggle.
“I think the new format, having three days (instead of four in Book Two of the sale catalog) and tightening down the selection criteria for the (fewer) horses that were in there helped dramatically,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales.
Another factor, according Russell, was “a sense of confidence among buyers,” which domestically, he said, has been boosted by the anticipation of increased racing purses in New York, where a video-lottery-terminal casino is scheduled to open at Aqueduct later this year, and tax incentives for yearling purchases.
Dell Hancock of Claiborne Farm is among the consignors who have benefited from the surge of shopping excitement.
“We’ve had a good sale,” she said as the fifth session approached its end. “I always think about what Mr. (Robert) Courtney told me one time, ‘I came up here with horses and I’m going home with money.’ That’s what we’re doing. Good horses are selling well and the other horses are selling. There seems to be a lot more zip to it and people saying, ‘I’ll go get another one’ this year than in years past. It feels much better to me. We have nice horses and they’re selling fine. We’re not selling million dollar horses—nobody is except for the odd breakout—but whenever you come up here and you’re selling and making a little money, it’s a good day.”
A strapping Awesome Again colt topped the fifth session, commanding $1.35 million. Mark Roberts signed the sale ticket for the bay yearling, whose new owner is multiple Eclipse Award-winning breeder and owner Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs operation. Awesome Again, who recently underwent colic surgery, stands at Stronach’s Adena Springs Kentucky.
The immediate underbidder on the $1.35 millon colt was Californian George Bolton, who was standing at a sale pavilion doorway with Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings’ Barbara Banke and Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who is an adviser to both. Bolton bought a $1.2 million Street Cry—Forest Music colt from Gainesway, which sold the yearling for Stonestreet, on the September auction’s opening night.
“I thought he was probably the nicest horse I’ve seen at this sale,” said Roberts, who is the general manager of Adena Springs South in Florida, of the $1.35 million yearling. “He was beautiful and for the sire, he was very elegant, a very nice horse. He’ll head to Adena South in the next few days to be broken.”
The Kentucky-bred colt is a half brother to the winner Clarinet (by Giant's Causeway ). They are out of the winning 9-year-old Unbridled mare Legs Lawlor, who is a half sister to 1997 Horse of the Year Favorite Trick (by Phone Trick). A half sister to Legs Lawlor, Unenchantedevening (by Unbridled's Song), is the dam of Indian Evening (by Indian Charlie), who captured Swynford Stakes in Canada and finished third in the Three Chimneys Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) this year.
“He’s out of a young Unbridled mare that is a nice mare and the family is very nice, but we just liked the individual,” said Roberts of the colt. “He’s got a lot of stretch to him, and he has a lot of scope to him. A lot of the good ones are like that; (2004 Horse of the Year) Ghostzapper was that way. Frank was pretty set on having him.”
Bill and Carole McAlpin’s 280-acre Greenwood Lodge Farm near Paris, Ky., bred the yearling and consigned him to the auction.
“He was a very, very nice horse, but obviously we are surprised at that result,” said Bill McAlpin of the colt’s price. “With our market, it’s extremely hard to judge where you are. What we did know is that we had a very nice horse. We knew he was very popular, he had 19 ‘vettings’ (veterinary exams), so we knew he was going to be well-received.”
McAlpin is the chairman of Distant Lands Coffee. He and his wife, who have been in the Thoroughbred business nearly 20 years, own 19 mares, which are split between their Kentucky farm and England. The $1.35 million colt is the highest-priced yearling they have ever sold at public auction.
The breeding decision that produced the colt came about because the McAlpins had bred Legs Lawlor previously to Awesome Again.
In 2008, “we got a colt and he was an absolutely super horse,” Bill McAlpin said. “Beyond that, he had a wonderful personality; he was such a character. We were out to lunch the day of the Preakness (gr. I) and we got a phone call. That was probably 3 o’clock and by 6 o’clock, he was dead. He had a perforated stomach.
“The mare was already back in foal to Indian Charlie,” McAlpin continued, “so the next opportunity we had to breed the mare, we bred her back to Awesome Again and obviously she did just as well this time with this colt.”
The fifth session’s second-most-expensive horse was a daughter of Unbridled's Song that commanded $1.3 million, the auction's highest price for a filly so far. Benjamin Leon Jr.’s Besilu Stables was her buyer and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, representing Brad Kelley’s Bluegrass Hall operation, was the immediate underbidder.
A Florida resident and health care magnate, Leon is building a breeding and racing operation that he said is focusing on quality over quantity. Through the September sale’s first five sessions, Leon was the biggest domestic spender and the second-biggest overall, paying $8,175,000 for 13 yearlings. John Ferguson, who is the bloodstock manager for Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, ranked first, spending $8,870,000 for 36 yearlings.
“Everything—the bone, the walk, the size, the strength, how she’s put together, and obviously, she has a very good pedigree,” said Leon when asked what he liked about the $1.3 million filly. “It was very difficult to fault her.”
The gray or roan Kentucky-bred yearling is a half sister to Multiple Choice (by Mt. Livermore), who triumphed in the Jaipur Handicap (gr. IIIT) in 2004 and the Sport Page (gr. III) and Gravesend (gr. III) handicaps in 2002. The filly also is a half sister to the stakes-placed winner Proposal (by Mt. Livermore), who is the dam of three added-money winners.
Their 19-year-old dam, Lady of Choice (by Storm Bird), finished third twice in four career races. She is a half sister to 1998 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) winner Well Chosen (by Deputy Minister). Well Chosen produced Telling (by A.P. Indy), who won the 2009 and 2010 editions of the Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. IT).
Gerry Dilger’s Dromoland Farm near Lexington foaled, raised, and consigned the filly for her breeder, Peter Blum.
“She was always a big, strong individual,” Dilger said. “Over time, when we started to prep her (for the sale), she really ‘refined down’—even though she was already very good—and she became even better. She is as strong as any Unbridled’s Song (offspring) that I’ve seen, and she made life easy for me. I want to thank Peter Blum for giving me the opportunity and thank the staff at Dromoland Farm.”
Dilger added that he was “surprised” that the winning bid for the yearling was so high even though she attracted a lot of interest from prominent buyers.
“She was scoped (her throat examined endoscopically) 22 times and the people who were buying horses at the higher levels, they were all there for her,” he said. “I had a very reasonable reserve on her because it’s very hard to bring one home. The buyers make the value of the horse in the ring, and we were all very, very happy with her price.”
The results for the September sale’s first five sessions combined included a gross of $145,216,500 for the 753 horses that were sold. The average was $192,851 and the median was $150,000.
The buy-back rate was 27%, down from 31.6% in 2010.
The auction will resume Sept. 17 and will run through Sept. 24. Each session will begin at 10 a.m. (EDT).