When the Keeneland September yearling auction ended Sept. 25 in Lexington after 15 grueling sessions, consignor Tommy Eastham of Legacy Bloodstock was eager for more.
"I'm not ready to go home," he said. "As long as the horses are selling good, I'm OK. It's only when they're selling badly that it's not any fun."
This year, the September sale was fun, for the most part, even though its figures fell short of 2006's world Thoroughbred auction record for gross revenue and all-time September highs for the average and median prices. The number of horses sold, 3,799, shattered last year's world Thoroughbred sale mark of 3,556, while the gross of $385,018,600 and the median of $42,000 both were the auction's second-highest ever. The average of $101,347 was the third-highest.
"The sale has been -- as I have said more than once -- phenomenal; it's my new favorite word," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "Buyers and consignors were more enthusiastic about this year's sale than last year's record sale; there was a better feel throughout. Look at the amount of people we've had, even through today. The bidding has been fast and furious. There was a more upbeat, positive attitude."
The gross and average rose from 2006 in 12 of the sessions, and the median was up in 11, the same in two, and down in only one. Since the sale was one day longer than in 2006, no comparisons could be made using the numbers from the final session, but the area behind the sale ring was crowded and the most attractive prospects sparked brief flurries of offers.
"There's still plenty of people looking to buy," said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency. "I've been here on last days before when you would look around and just about the only people here were the ones who were selling."
The only part of the September market that was significantly weaker than in 2006 was the very top, where the combined gross and average for the two select sessions that opened the auction dropped 20.5% and 23.6%, respectively, when there was a lack of competition between the industry's two shopping titans: Sheikh Mohammed and Coolmore Stud. But by the end of the sale, the enthusiasm of a large, diverse group of domestic buyers and other foreign shoppers had cut those deficits to only 3.7% for gross (down from $399,791,800), and 9.9% for average (down from $112,427). The median fell 6.7% from $45,000.
Meanwhile, the buy-back rate rose slightly, from 22% last year to 22.5% this year.
"I thought when we didn't have some of those higher prices (in the select sessions) it would might really hurt the market, but it has been great for the horse in the middle," Taylor said. "Keeneland has done a good job going to different countries and getting new buyers to come to the sale."
Taylor Made was the auction's leading consignor for the fourth consecutive year, selling 415 yearlings for $57,961,500. The biggest spender was Demi O'Byrne, who purchased 13 yearlings for $17,920,000.
O'Byrne was followed closely in second by Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, who paid $17,780,000 for 21 horses. However, that amount was way below last year's investment of $59,945,000 (for 34 yearlings), which was believed to be an industry high for a single buyer at a single sale.
The number of yearlings sold for $1 million or more--32--was the same as last year. But the highest price for an individual horse plunged from a September high of $11.7 million to $3.7 million.
While most of the auction's statistics held up well even though more yearlings were sold, Keeneland's Russell warned that the overproduction of horses is a problem.
“I don’t think the industry should look at the results of this sale and feel there is no concern for the long-term health of the market,” Russell said. “The breeding industry as a whole must take a long, hard look at its practices, particularly regarding stud fees and the oversupply of horses. There are currently too many non-commercial horses being offered. The industry needs to address these issues and encourage more participation in racing before we suffer a painful reality check.”
During the September sale's final session, 172 horses sold for a gross of $1,551,500. The average was $9,020, and the median was $5,750. The buy-back rate was 25.2%.
The next-to-last horse offered, a Mancini filly, brought the session's top price of $50,000. Florida pinhooker Tony Everard purchased her from John O'Meara's Milestone Farm. Produced from the 8-year-old unraced Demaloot Demashoot mare Are You Kidding, the filly is a full sister to stakes winners Whatsitgonnatake and Hurry Home Warren.