The Keeneland September yearling sale in Lexington could face its biggest challenge right at the start when the auction’s very best horses will be offered. Based on falling prices at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select sale and Arqana’s Deauville auction in France, the market for fancy stock is especially vulnerable this year.
“I think the toughest part of the Thoroughbred market right now may be the highest part,” said Gainesway’s Brian Graves. “There is a limit to what people are willing to give for horses based on the current state of the economy and we have the higher-end stud fees in these horses, so it’s harder to make a profit.”
The auction will begin Sept. 12 and its two select sessions, in a change from the past, will start at 7 p.m. (EDT). In addition, the sale will begin on a Sunday instead of a Monday.
Keeneland made the switch from days to evenings to “shake things up a little bit,” according to the company’s director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. But most buyers don’t think the added excitement and glamour, which nighttime events often generate, will encourage them to spend more money.
“Right now there is only a certain amount of money you can pay for a horse and get back your investment,” said GoldMark Farm’s Todd Quast. “Purses are lower and the residual value on the other end as a stallion is less.”
Yearling shopping titan Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, has reduced his spending and so has mighty Coolmore Stud of Ireland.
“Everybody has adjusted and they have it in their minds now that the market is different than it used to be and they don’t want to pay more than the market says a horse is worth,” said Seth Semkin, an adviser to Spendthrift Farm’s B. Wayne Hughes. “I think the best outcome here would be that the top of the market stabilizes and it doesn’t continue to go down.”
By Keeneland’s design, there are significantly fewer horses cataloged for this year’s select sessions – 211 compared to 418 in 2009. The yearlings scheduled to be offered include two of the three horses in the final crop of the great stallion Storm Cat, a full sister to champion Proud Spell, a half sister to European champion Russian Rhythm, and close relatives of such talented runners as Eskendereya, Well Armed, and General Quarters.
“With the downturn in the Thoroughbred industry and a pullback by certain players in the game, this is the most opportune time for people to participate in all levels of the market, but especially at the top,” Keeneland’s Russell said. “People can come to the September sale and be able to buy a horse for a reasonable price.”
The auction, which will run through Sept. 26, will have 14 sessions in all, with a day off from selling on Sept. 18. The two select sessions will be followed by four sessions (each beginning at 10 a.m.) that make up book two of the catalog and will offer horses just below the top-end stock in quality based on their conformation and pedigrees. In recent years, the select sessions had been followed by two days of selling before a one-day Friday break.
“With the new format, there are going to be good horses throughout the first week of the sale, and based on what we’ve seen so far at other sales, I think the middle market will be decent,” said Eaton Sales’ Archie St. George.
The Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s August sale and Fasig-Tipton’s New York preferred and Texas sales all turned in encouraging results for horses that sold mostly in the $100,000 and below range, with moderate increases in many key business figures.
But, according to St. George, “even though certain sales have looked solid enough and there have been positives, it’s still going to be tough. These horses were bred on stud fees at the tail end of a good economy and we’re selling them now in a poor economy.”
There are 4,857 yearlings cataloged for the auction, which is the largest sale of its kind in the world.