The Keeneland September yearling sale is a tradition. As Saratoga is the "August place to be," so might Keeneland be considered the September hotspot.
In another industry it might be considered a convention of sorts. Once a year all the serious players gather in Lexington to inspect the newest crop of Thoroughbreds. Even those who aren't there to acquire a potential runner go to Keeneland to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry and get a glimpse of who to watch in the year to come.
This year, the industry's premier yearling auction will offer nearly 4,000 youngsters representing 293 sires. There are some fresh faces among those represented sires including Blame (41 yearlings), Desert Party (21), Discreetly Mine (37), Eskendereya (60), Lookin at Lucky (52), Majesticperfection (39), Midshipman (23), Munnings (37), Quality Road (59), Super Saver (61), Tale of Ekati (21), and Warrior's Reward (50).
"We looked at a lot of representative samples as we inspected the yearlings and were impressed by a lot of these new young sires," said Tom Thornbury, Keeneland Association's associate director of sales. "It's going to be a good quality bunch with a lot of depth. We're happy that (our breeders) have found that this is the marketplace for them."
The new sires enter a different marketplace than their sires before them have in recent years; the marketplace is experiencing an upturn after suffering along with the country's economy. Going through that crisis has provided an upside for the industry, namely an improvement in bloodstock.
Many new breeders have taken advantage of the opportunity the downturn in the market provided for the acquisition of good stock at a reasonable price, which Thornbury believes to be very encouraging.
"A lot of non-productive stock was eliminated from the marketplace, so the quality, on average, went up," Thornbury said.
As a lesser amount of non-productive stock is in the system, "the number of mares bred has gone down," Thornbury said, "so consequently the number of horses sold has been in contraction." The median quality of that stock, though, "has gone up because you've eliminated the bad stock and you're left with that which is productive and there is a market for that and it seems as though demand is growing. You're beginning to see some pent up demand for racehorses," he said.
The quality of the stock to be offered at the September sale is not limited to Book 1.
"From front to back in this sale (the consumer) is buying a better quality of stock than he ever has before," Thornbury said. Median quality in particular has been elevated, he believes, as a result of the lesser stock being phased out of the marketplace.
The demand for the offspring of young unproven sires is on the rise as well, according to Thornbury, particularly among pinhookers.
"In the last couple of years you're seeing pinhookers going back to their old formula of finding athletes, no matter who they are by and taking a chance on a new first-year sire," Thornbury said. "And I think they lead the way in that market.
"When the downturn came, (pinhookers) went back to the old winning formula, which is proven sires. Now they have been rewarded with a better market and they are taking a little more risk on new young guns with athletic looking babies.
"For the last two years they've been getting back into that, rather than leaning on proven sires altogether."
And while this year's sale is a showcase of bright young things, it will also feature some stalwart stallions. Indian Charlie will be represented by 52 offspring and Dynaformer eight from their final crops, while 29 yearlings by Pulpit will be offered from his penultimate crop. Unbridled's Song, who passed away this year, will be represented by 54 yearlings.
"Front to back, (the sale is) basically two weeks of the best that this industry provides," Thornbury said. "Just since the catalog was printed (in early August), the first dams of 27 yearlings have been affected by a graded or group stakes winner. And these numbers go all the way back to the very last book. It should be great fun."
Claire Novak interviews Tom Thornbury and Craig Bandoroff: