The yearling selling season kicks off in Kentucky Monday with the opening of the Keeneland July select yearling auction. The average price at the sale has increased for seven consecutive years, and last year's figure of $710,247 was the highest ever recorded at any yearling auction in the world. But keeping up that pace might not be easy in 2002.
The 200 horses catalogued represents a 22% increase over last year's all-time low of 164. And when the book gets larger, an upswing in average price is more difficult to sustain. Last week's bad news in the stock market also is a cause for concern. But Keeneland director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, was looking on the bright side on Saturday morning.
"We're very pleased with the quality of the catalogue," he said. "We are also pleased that we have recruited several new consignors and have several old friends back selling with us again this year. We obviously would like the stock market to be a little more friendlier, but then the optimist in me thinks that if people are not investing in the stock market, maybe they will want to invest in high quality Thoroughbreds."
The good news for Keeneland is that several of the buyers who dominate its upper echelons--including Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai and Coolmore Stud--probably won't be affected significantly by America's economic woes. The bad news is that the sale may be suffering from a lack of sire power that is so important in keeping such buyers interested in playing.
The last crop of yearlings by Mr. Prospector sold last year. The late Seattle Slew also will not be represented because health problems left him with only a handful of 2002 yearlings, and none were entered in the Keeneland July sale. Deputy Minister, who had the most yearlings catalogued of any sire this year (16), is going through a cold spell.
"We are hoping the young sires like Kingmambo and Unbridled's Song, will pick up and move up into that top echelon," Russell said.
As for Deputy Minister, "he is one of those horses that while he may have a cold period every so often, I don't think the buyers give up on him," Russell said. "At any time he could pop up and have an Awesome Again and a Touch Gold all in the same year and be back just like that."
Consignors reported that the barns were busy on Friday, the first full day of showing at Keeneland. There was a lot of traffic early on Saturday, but many buyers disappeared when rain started pouring down steadily later in the morning.
"All the major players or their representatives are here, so we'll keep our fingers crossed," Russell said. "The comments we have received from some of the buyers that we have talked to is that they like the horses they've seen on the grounds. I just hope they like them a lot."
Among the horses generating an early buzz was a strapping son of Storm Cat out of the winning Mr. Prospector mare Tacha. Bred by Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm, he is consigned to the sale by Taylor Made Sales Agency.
Other horses receiving favorable comments included:
A Coronado's Quest colt that is a half-brother to champion and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Victory Gallop. Bred by Ivan Dalos in the name of Tall Oaks Farm, he is consigned by Eaton Sales.
A Kingmambo colt out of graded winner Cymbala (by Assert) that is consigned by William S. Farish's Lane's End.
A Seeking the Gold colt out of Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Desert Stormer that is consigned by Eaton. He is a full brother to graded winner Sahara Gold.
A Gone West colt out of graded winner Memories that is consigned by Glennwood Farm and Voute Sales.
A Kingmambo colt who is a full brother to English group II winner Dubai Destination. He is consigned by Calumet Farm.
A Storm Cat filly who is a full sister to grade II winner Magicalmystercat that is consigned by Eaton.
Keeneland's opening session Monday will start at 7:30 p.m. (EDT). The second and final session is scheduled for Tuesday at the same time. The Fasig-Tipton July select yearling sale will follow on Wednesday and Thursday in Lexington.