Business at the Keeneland September yearling sale's opening session snapped and crackled, but it didn't really pop compared to a year ago when first-day records were established for the average and median prices. Both of those figures dropped Sept. 10 in Lexington while the gross revenue, number of seven-figure horses sold, and highest price for an individual yearling also declined.
"I think the buyers are winning," said Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency. "The market is all right, but I've seen it better. It's not terrible, it’s just less than it was. It's gone from great to good."
Keeneland officials reported 171 horses were sold for a gross of $67,395,000, an average of $394,123, and a median of $300,000. Compared to last year's opening session, when 163 horses were sold, the gross fell 23.3% from $87,900,000, which was the second-highest total ever for the first session. The average decreased 26.9% from $539,264, and the median was down 3.2% from $310,000.
The number of horses sold for $1 million or more declined from 16 to 11. The buy-back rate fell from 27.9% to 24%.
Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell blamed the opening day's setbacks on the lack of competition between the Thoroughbred world's two shopping titans, Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai and John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, and not on the lack of quality in the sale catalog. Sheikh Mohammed and Magnier tangled for the first time at any sale this year.But it was more of a wrestling match than a slugfest. Sheikh Mohammed won the skirmish, with his $2.9-million bid for a handsome Dynaformer colt.
Last year, on the September sale's opening day, the two buying forces were more aggressive, with Sheikh Mohammed being pushed hard by Coolmore to obtain an $8.2-million Storm Cat--Awesome Humor colt (now named Emirates Flyer) and a $5.7-million Mr. Greeley--Silvester Lady colt (now named Nawakhida).
"We didn't expect to have the same fireworks as last year, Russell said. "They (Sheikh Mohammed and Magnier) just seem to be on different pages. When they don't hook up, there's nobody to fill one of their places."
The session-topping Dynaformer colt is out of the 18-year-old Mr. Prospector mare Preach, who captured the 1991 Frizette Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park. The dark bay or brown yearling is a half-brother to the successful sire Pulpit , a graded stakes-winning son of A.P. Indy who currently ranks 13th on the leading sire list. Sheikh Mohammed purchased the session topper's half-brother by Storm Cat during last year's Keeneland September sale for $3 million. The Hancock family's Claiborne Farm, located near Paris, Ky., bred and consigned both colts as agent.
"He's an outstanding individual from a great family," said Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, of the Dynaformer yearling. "He comes from Claiborne Farm, which has raised more champions in this area than anybody. We just felt that he was an exceptional individual. And Dynaformer is a proven stallion at the highest level. We're pleased with the Storm Cat colt; he's developed well. You've got a great individual from a sire you know can do it, from a family you know can do it, and from a farm you know can do it, so really, he's an exciting horse to have."
Dell Hancock of Claiborne was pleased with the price.
"We're tickled to death," she said. "We were disappointed a little bit last year because we thought we had a chance to top the sale, but if you stick around long enough, you get paid back. This colt is such a good mover. He's got a great head, and he has a wonderful pedigree. I didn't really know what to think coming in here because he's by Dynaformer, and historically, they (Dynaformer's offspring) don't sell great. But Barbaro proved Dynaformer can get a really good horse."
Ferguson, whose named appeared on Sheikh Mohammed's sale tickets, was the day's leading buyer, spending $13,910,000 for 13 horses, including five of the six-figure yearlings. Sheikh Mohammed's brother, Sheikh Hamdan, whose latest visit to Kentucky ended before the auction started, paid $2,250,000 for four horses in the name of his Shadwell operation. Rabbah Bloodstock, which shops for Sheikh Mohammed's friends and associates, spent $380,000 for three yearlings. The combined figures for the Dubai contingent were no fewer than 20 horses purchased for no less than $16,540,000, which represented 24.5% of the opening session's gross.
Demi O'Byrne, representing the Coolmore Stud team, spent $5,150,000 for five yearlings, including the first day's most expensive filly, a $1.6-million daughter of Seeking the Gold out of the European stakes-winning Royal Academy mare Crystal Crossing. He also paid $2 million for an A.P. Indy--Fire the Groom colt.
Texan Clarence Schaubauer, whose family raced 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba, returned to the September sale for the first time since 1996. He bought an Awesome Again --Maggy Hawk filly, which is a half-sister to champion and dual classic winner Afleet Alex, for $1.4 million.
The September sale runs through Sept. 25, with a day off from selling Sept. 14.