Even though the Thoroughbred yearling market has sent out mixed messages so far this year, many people believe the Keeneland September auction, which begins Monday, will follow the trends seen at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky select and Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select sales. There will be declines, but they won't be devastating.
"My guess is that there will be about a 10% correction," said Case Clay of Three Chimneys Sales. "But we've had such a good four-year run that a 10% correction isn't necessarily that bad. I think the exchange rate will be a factor, and for the first three or four books (in the catalog), it will be a positive influence. I think it will help keep the market from plunging."
A number of European shoppers roamed the Keeneland sale barns over the weekend, seeking to take advantage of the American dollar's weakness against their currency. They included trainer Brian Meehan, bloodstock agents Hugo Merry, Tom Goff, and Johnny McKeever, and various members of the powerful Coolmore Stud buying team.
"Certainly some of our clients have shown a little more interest in the sale than usual to a certain degree because of the exchange rate," Meehan said.
Also looking at horses before the Keeneland September auction were Hall-of-Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas; trainers Steve Asmussen and Bob Baffert; Japanese trainer Hideyuki Mori, who has signed sale tickets in the past for the flamboyant Fusao Sekiguchi; and Kuwaitis Saleh Al Homeizi and Imad Al Sagar, who race this year's Vodafone Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner Authorized.
Sources indicated that Sheikh Mohammed arrived in Lexington Sept. 8, but he hadn't been spotted on the Keeneland sale grounds as of early the afternoon of the 9th, when a steady rain began to fall.
"There are very good horses here," said Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell. "I don't usually feel that there's much variance in the quality of the stock, but I would say that this year I do see a significant change because I've seen some awfully nice horses. And, God knows, all the major buyers are here. I think it will be a good, solid sale, without blowing the roof off."
The Keeneland September sale is the largest Thoroughbred auction in the world, and this year it is bigger than ever, with 5,553 horses cataloged. The auction begins with two select sessions, and there will be two sessions with slightly less quality horses before a day off from selling Sept. 14. Eleven more sessions will follow, with the sale ending Sept. 25.
"I think the first four days are going to be strong, but I don't think we'll have an $11-million dollar horse," said Drew Nardiello of Cheapeake Farm. "There are some horses with very good pedigrees here, but you didn't see anything over the top at Saratoga. The middle four days will be spotty. The last seven days will show us that there is an overproduction of sale horses, and a lot of them being offered then won't find suitable homes unless people don't want to put reserves on them."
Bayne Welker of Mill Ridge Sales described his outlook for the September auction as "cautiously optimistic." Like Clay, he believes the buying power European shoppers will have because of the exchange rate will be a plus.
But, added Welker: 'The major North American yearling sales have been down about 10% across the board, and while the influence of European buyers will help, it won't pull our market out of a correction."
Selling begins each day at 10 a.m. (EDT).