The Keeneland September yearling sale was running ahead of last year’s pace in two important statistical categories following its fourth session in Lexington. The cumulative average price of $181,131 and median price of $120,000 were up 8.2% and 9.1%, respectively, through Sept. 15.
The gross revenue of $95,456,000 was down 18.9%, but that wasn’t a surprise because the number of horses sold was also down, trailing 25% behind the 2009 total. The buy-back rate of 32.3%, meanwhile, was down slightly from last year, when 34.5% of the horses offered failed to find new homes.
While the results included some encouraging trends, consignors continued to struggle to make money because of the high stud fees paid to produce the stock they were offering and extreme buyer selectivity.
“I think the market is more polarized than ever,” said consignor Jody Huckabay of Elm Tree Farm in Kentucky. “The good horses are bringing top dollar, and the other ones are having a hard time finding homes. We have 20 horses in the sale. Ten horses are going to make money and for 10 it’s going to be bad news. That’s reality and that’s better than it’s going to be for some people.”
Huckabay and his wife, Michelle, in the name of Elm Tree, sold the fourth session’s highest-priced yearling, a $700,000 daughter of Malibu Moon that was so popular that she underwent 20 endoscopic throat exams before going through the auction ring.
“I turned down another seven or eight people,” said Huckabay, who decided the filly had been subjected to enough scrutiny and asked prospective buyers to seek information about the health of her airway from veterinarians who already had looked at her throat.
Leonard Lavin’s Glen Hill Farm in Florida purchased the attractive bay yearling, fighting off Jerry and Ann Moss of Zenyatta fame, B. Wayne Hughes of Spendthrift Farm, and George Bolton. Lavin’s grandson, Craig Bernick, who is Glen Hill’s president and CEO, signed the sale ticket.
“We thought she was the best filly that we had seen in either book one or book two (of the sale catalog),” Bernick said. “We have a half sister to Malibu Moon by Dynaformer (Mutually Benefit) that we like a lot. We heard there were a lot of people on her (the $700,000 filly), and it was a little more than we wanted to spend when we first looked at her. But we realized that (kind of money) was what it was going to take as the sale went on because everybody was on her. I thought we had her for $650,000, but I had to bid one more time and that was my last bid. I’m glad we got her.”
The filly will be broken and prepared for racing at Glen Hill before being sent to trainer Tom Proctor, according to Bernick.
"She’s just awesome,” he said. “She’s got good knees, a really good shoulder, and a beautiful head on her. She was the first horse we looked at Monday morning (Sept. 13) and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ Every other we horse looked at afterward didn’t stack up to her. I wish she had a little more pedigree, but Malibu Moon has just started getting bred to his best mares now and just look at his grade I winners; very few of them had huge pedigrees before they were bred to him, so I’m not really worried about this filly’s pedigree.”
The Huckabays bred the session-topping yearling in partnership with P.L. and Shirley Blake of Alabama. They purchased the filly's dam, Erhu (by Tactical Cat), for $120,000 at the 2007 Keeneland November breeding stock sale from Three Chimneys Sales, agent. The mare was in foal to Silver Train at the time.
“We didn’t have good luck with the first foal; it ended up dying, but the mare rewarded us with this filly,” Huckabay said. “We have always liked Malibu Moon since he’s been in Kentucky (at stud) and he fit the mare on conformation and pedigree to a T. This filly was one of those from the get-go that was a real knockout. I love her size, the way she ties together, and the way she moves. She has been (showing) just stellar ever since she got here to the sale grounds.”
The filly’s winning dam finished third in the 2005 Early Times Mint Julep Handicap (gr. III). The mare is back in foal to Malibu Moon after producing a Street Boss colt earlier this year.
“We dreamed, but realistically, we thought if we absolutely knocked it out of the park with this filly that she would bring $500,000,” Huckabay said. “When we left the farm with her (to go to Keeneland), we were thinking maybe $200,000 or $250,000. But the ball kept rolling, she was scoped 20 times, and we had a lot of racehorse people on her.”
A Dynaformer colt out of the stakes-placed winner Ensenada (by Seeking the Gold) was the second-highest-priced horse sold during the fourth session, bringing $500,000. Sheikh Hamdan of Dubai, in the name of his Shadwell Estate Co., purchased the bay yearling from Mill Ridge Sales, agent. The colt’s second dam, Desert Stormer, was a grade I winner and is the dam of Keeneland grade II winner Sahara Gold (by Seeking the Gold).
“He was a nice colt; the boss really liked him,” said Rick Nichols, who is the vice president and general manager of Shadwell Farm in Kentucky.
Sheikh Hamdan, the auction’s biggest spender so far, has paid $7,290,000 for 18 yearlings.
The results for the fourth session included a gross of $23,859,000 for the 196 horses that sold. The average was $121,730 and the median was $85,000. The buy-back rate was 32.9%. During last year’s fourth session, when the sale was conducted using a different format, the 252 horses that sold grossed $26,185,000 and averaged $103,911. The median was $75,000 and the buy-back rate was 30.6%.
The auction runs through Sept. 26, with a break from selling Sept. 18. Each session begins at 10 a.m. (EDT).