There is little argument that Keeneland Association’s decision to jump-start the marathon September yearling sale with two very select night sessions achieved its goal of adding pizzazz and buzz to an otherwise lackluster public auction market.
A greatly reduced number of offerings in Book 1 resulted in average and median price increases of 31.8% and 32.6%, respectively, from the same sessions a year ago, and beginning a sale with positive numbers rather than negatives always provides a lift.
But as the sale settled into a more businesslike session Sept 14 with more than 300 horses scheduled to go through the sales ring, buyers and consignors were supportive of the format change but also cautioned about reading too much into the positive numbers generated on the first two nights.
For the most part, buyers seemed more pleased with the concept than consignors, who were concerned with the logistical issues posed by having so many horses cataloged in book 2 that otherwise would have been included in Book 1.
And according to one Keeneland sale official, there is likely to be some fine-tuning of the new format, based on feedback the company is getting.
"The first two nights provided an emotional upswing that carries consignors’ hopes," said Tom Thornbury, associate director of sales. "We realized there would be some logistical problems, and we brought consignors into the process (of changing the format). They told us they would go along with it. But to keep all our consignors happy we will have to tweak it. We want to keep our consignors and our buyers happy."
Pat Costello, whose Paramount Sales was one of the consignors with a large number of horses in Book 2 that includes horses that will be sold over the course of four days, said he would prefer to see more horses added to the first two sessions.
"It was great to see a lot of people here at night," Costello said, "but it is really tough for us to keep up with all the horses we have in Book 2 spread out at different locations. I would prefer to have my horses sell on alternate days."
"I thought it was good for Keeneland," said Eric Guillot, buying for Southern Equine Stables. "It was a good venue. And the numbers were up because there was more demand and less supply. I think by the end of the sale, it (average and median) will balance out."
"It seemed to work," buyer Buzz Chace said of the new format. "There was a little buzz in the air. They shouldn’t have any problem maintaining similar numbers in Book 2 because there are some good horses over the next couple of days."
Frank Taylor, whose family’s Taylor Made Sales Agency is one of the largest Keeneland consignors, said he supported the new format, but noted that its success would have to be viewed within context of the entire sale.
"I think you have to look at it and evaluate it at the end, but I am happy with it so far," Taylor said.
Taylor said he could understand that some consignors found themselves stretched thin trying to show and sell the horses in Book 2, noting that it would have greater impact on smaller consignments with more limited number of personnel.
"It was tough on us logistically when we had 100 horses in Book 1, so we have always been logistically challenged," he said.
Jack Wolf, whose Starlight Partners was an active buyer at Keeneland, was ambivalent toward the new format. "I don’t think it really mattered; the good horses are going to sell well whether they sell them at night or day," he said.
"There’s a lot of money here," trainer Bob Baffert said during the second of two select sessions. "The outstanding looking horses, you’ll still have to pay $400,000 to $500,000 for. There’s no steals; believe me. Everybody wants the really, really good horses."