Cancel the funeral and dry your tears. The Keeneland July select yearling sale is not dead yet.Not long ago, the prognosis looked grim for what used to be the world's most prestigious Thoroughbred auction. Abandoned by some consignors, the sale had its smallest catalogue ever in 2001, with only 164 horses listed. A worldwide economic slowdown and a horse health crisis in Central Kentucky both threatened to hammer the final nails into its coffin.But just as the obituaries were being written, the summer auction rallied to generate some of the best results in its history. The average price was the highest ever for any yearling sale in the world. The median established an auction record. And the July record for a yearling filly was nearly broken when a daughter of Seeking the Gold, named Scene Seeker, sold for $3.7 million.On the negative side, the number offered and sold plunged to all-time lows; the buy-back rate soared to an all-time high (32.6%); and the percentage of yearlings scratched rose from 13.5% to 19.5%.Still, the mood was upbeat among Keeneland officials. They mounted their biggest ever July marketing effort in 2001 with a program that included "a substantial increase" in expenditures for advertising and a promotional CD-ROM. They also gave consignors a stipend they could use for buyer entertainment and airfares."This sale is worth fighting for!" declared Keeneland president Nick Nicholson. "It's an important sale for not only Keeneland, but also for the industry. The buyers were here. The horses were presented well. And the market showed that there is a place for a boutique sale."Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's new director of sales, vowed to talk with every consignor "face to face" in an effort to recruit more yearlings for the auction, which he called "a hell of a platform to sell the prime horse."To Nicholson and Russell's delight, a number of prominent buyers supported their cause, calling the July sale a key event and chastising consignors for not supporting it. On opening night, Irish veterinarian Demi O'Byrne warned sellers they were "making a big mistake" by not offering more of their yearlings in July. That sentiment was echoed the following evening by Richard Mulhall, president of The Thoroughbred Corp."I don't understand why people don't want to sell here," he said. "Horses are bringing money that just boggles my mind."Following two evening sessions conducted July 16 and 17, the final figures and statistical trends for the auction were as follows:
- The number offered declined for the fourth consecutive year and was down 26.7%, slipping from 180 to 132.
- The number sold also fell for the fourth year in a row and was down 31.5%, plunging from 130 to 89.
- Ending six consecutive years of growth, gross revenue dropped 21.7%, from $80,732,000 to $63,212,000.
- The average increased for the seventh straight year and was up 14.4%, rising from $621,015 to $710,247.
- After leveling off last year, the median climbed by 7.5%, from $400,000 to $430,000.
- The highest price for an individual yearling advanced from $3.6 million to $4 million.
- The number of horses sold for $1 million or more decreased from 24 to 16, and the number sold for $500,000 or more dipped from 53 to 41.