The select portion of Keeneland's September yearling sale had fewer horses and was shorter this year, but it generated some impressive financial fireworks. Five horses commanded seven-figure prices during the auction's lone select session Sept. 10 in Lexington. The number was up from 2011, when three brought $1 million or more during two nights of select selling.
But buyers remained picky and roughly a third of the yearlings offered, 34.2%, failed to find new homes compared to 32.5% a year ago.
"You have to accept the good with the bad; that's the market that we're in," said John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Farms and Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency. "It's very good for the right horses and for the others, it's a struggle."
The select session's results included a gross of $30,290,000 for the 75 yearlings that were sold under the new one-day format that included an afternoon start. The average price was $403,867 and the median price was $350,000.
The gross was down 33.6% from the 2011 auction's select portion, when 129 horses were sold. But the average and median grew 14.3% and 16.7%, respectively. The number of yearlings offered fell to 114 from 191 last year.
"It was a good horse sale," said Walt Robertson, Keeneland's vice president of sales. "You would always like to sell a few more, but this is a very selective world we're living in. Our buyers literally came from everywhere. We were pleased that the Japanese hit hard and the Americans hit pretty hard, too."
The Keeneland September sale has had a select portion since 1989. The number sold and gross were the lowest ever. But the average reached its highest point since 2007's amount of $431,386 and the median set a record. The previous mark of $300,000 was established in 2006 and then equaled in 2007, 2008, and 2011.
Sheikh Hamdan of Dubai, in the name of his Shadwell Estate Co., was the biggest spender, paying $3.8 million for four head. Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm of Florida ranked second, spending $2.25 million for three. K.K. Eishindo of Japan was third on the leading buyers' list, paying $1,975,000 for four.
Sheikh Hamdan purchased the session topper, a $1.65 million son of Distorted Humor . The grand bay yearling is the first foal out of the 7-year-old Empire Maker mare Mushka, who captured the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland and Glens Falls Handicap (gr. IIIT) in 2009 and the Demoiselle Stakes (gr. II) in 2007.
"Good pedigree, nice conformation, and (he) fit well into the program," said Rick Nichols, vice president and general manager of Shadwell in Kentucky in a statement to Keeneland following the purchase.
The Kentucky-bred colt was the next-to-last horse to be offered during the select session.
Eaton Sales consigned the yearling for his breeder, Betty Moran's Brushwood Stable, which is based in Pennsylvania and is a longtime Eaton client.
"I'm very happy. In this market, whenever you crack a million dollars, you're doing well," said Eaton's Reiley McDonald, who is an adviser to Moran. "He has the profile that everybody is looking for nowadays—that neck set; beautiful, long shoulder; long back; and great hip. He just had a beautiful attitude through the whole thing. They (the sale yearlings) go through four days of pretty heavy abuse here between the scoping and the vetting and the looking and the heart monitoring and all that. He handled it with a lot of grace."
Brushwood purchased Mushka for $2.4 million from Eaton Sales, agent for Zayat Stables, at the 2008 Keeneland November breeding stock sale and raced her until her competitive career ended following two races in 2010.
"We had a lot of fun with her," McDonald said. "She's a beautiful mare and special to us, so it was nice to see this colt do so well for Betty."
Of the mating that produced the $1.65 million yearling, McDonald said: "We were trying to breed a mare that could run on anything to an American sire. We were lucky because we got a lot of size from the mare and hopefully we'll get the heart and toughness from the sire."
Donato Lanni, bloodstock services director for Hill 'n' Dale Farms, bought the select session's second-highest-priced horse, a $1.3 million Smart Strike —Untouched Talent filly, for Sikura and Bruce Lunsford. Out of a grade III winner, the elegant bay yearling is a half sister to Bodemeister , who won the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) and finished second in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands and Preakness Stakes (both gr. I) this year.
Lanni described the yearling as "classy" and said she eventually would be sent to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who conditioned Bodemeister before that colt was retired from racing because of a shoulder injury. Baffert called the opportunity to train the filly "Bodelicious."
Brookdale Sales, agent for Audley Farm Equine, consigned the yearling.
The other seven-figure horses were a $1.1 million A.P. Indy—Moonlight Sonata filly named A. P. Sonata, who was purchased by Whisper Hill Farm from Mill Ridge Sales, agent; a $1.05 million War Front —Gold Vault colt that was bought by Jane B. Dunn, agent, from Claiborne Farm, agent; and a $1 million Street Cry (IRE)—Tizso colt that was purchased by Charles and Maribeth Sandford from Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.
The A.P. Indy filly, who is out of a grade III winner and is a member of her sire's final crop, is a half sister to grade II winners Wilburn and Beethoven. The War Front colt is a half brother to grade I winner Contested. And the Street Cry colt is a half brother to grade I winner Paynter , grade III winner Tiz West, and another added-money winner, Tizakitty.
The Keeneland September sale runs through Sept. 21, with a break from selling Sept. 14.