When the Keeneland September yearling sale starts its 13-day run on Monday, everyone will be anxious to see what effect the struggling American stock market and economic woes overseas will have on the largest auction for young Thoroughbreds in the world.
Based on record-setting results at the summer select sales, business should be strong in the two select sessions that kick off the 13-day September auction. But there are concerns about the level of demand for the thousands of yearlings with less impressive credentials that follow.
Recent regional sales have posted mixed results. Markets in Washington, Canada were down while prices were up in Texas and California. In Florida, gross revenues plunged after the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's auction lost its biggest consignor. High buy-back rates have been a problem almost everywhere-- even in Kentucky's select markets.
"I'm cautiously optimistic; that's been my mode for the year," said Mark Taylor of the Taylor Made Sales Agency. "I think Monday and Tuesday will be really good. A lot of guys who will be buying horses then are kind of recession-proof. My fear is that, at some point, the people who could possibly be more affected by the economy are going to start having their opportunity to go to the plate and are they going to be a little bit more conservative. I think you're going to see that happen on about Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. I'm not gloom and doom. But I think some of these guys who have made a bunch of money (in the stock market) in the last couple of years and who used to buy horses for $350,000 or $400,000 on Friday and Saturday, might turn it down and try to buy the $75,000 horse."
Two days before the September auction was scheduled to begin, most consignors said that there had been plenty of lookers already at their barns. Fred Seitz of Brookdale Farm hadn't planned to show his yearlings when they shipped in on Thursday, but he changed his plans because numerous prospective buyers were eager to get rolling.
"We would have been left out in the cold if we hadn't shown our yearlings then," he said.
John Ferguson, who represents the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing operation was making the rounds. So was Rick Nichols, a key adviser to Sheikh Hamdan. Numerous shoppers from Japan also were inspecting horses. Suffering from economic woes at home, Japanese buyers have been scarce so far at this year's yearling auctions. However, the large catalogue at Keeneland offers a wide selection that will help them maximize their limited resources.
The area between barns 18 and 19 was particularly crowded with lookers on Saturday morning. Stabled there are five offspring from the final crop of Mr. Prospector--one with Arthur B. Hancock III's Stone Farm, two under the supervision of Ben P. Walden Jr. at Gracefield, and two with E.K. Gaylord II's Lazy E Ranch.
"He's the real deal," said Butch Wise, a Lazy E co-manager, of a big, handsome Mr. Prospector colt out of the Cherokee Colony mare Destination Mir.
One trainer, who stopped by to look at the colt, predicted that Keeneland's select sessions would produce blockbuster prices.
"Based on what's happened so far this year and the quality of the conformation and pedigrees I've seen so far, there are colts here who could bring $6 million or $7 million," he said.