Industry Finds Solid Footing at Keeneland

Industry Finds Solid Footing at Keeneland
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Another Keeneland September Yearling Sale has reached its end.

Keeneland's 12-day September yearling sale ended Saturday with strong gains over last year that justified pre-sale optimism and signaled that commercial Thoroughbred breeding has regained solid financial footing with across-the-board gains and a record median.

After a season that also saw growth in juvenile and summer yearling sale returns, Keeneland's September auction grossed $280,491,300 for 2,744 yearlings. That was 27.6% higher than 2012's gross for 2,516 yearlings.

And despite having an eight-percent larger catalog3,908 horses versus 3,604 a year agothe 2013 edition also saw its average and median rise. After 12 sessions, the cumulative average was $102,220, up 17% from last year, marking the first time the average has hit six figures since 2007. The cumulative median reached $50,000 for the first time and was up 11.1% from last year's $45,000, which matched the record set in 2006.

The buyback rate rose slightly but remained moderate at 19.9%, as compared to 19.2% in 2012. As good as the financial returns were, consignors and auction officials alike were equally impressed by the wide range of accents and languages among bidders at the sale, from start to finishan indication that there's still worldwide demand for U.S.-bred horses in a range of prices.

"There are two things going on, I think," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, of the auction's apparently good health. "One, I think there is a change in the economy which is helping. People have realized, as we get farther away from 2008, that they're more comfortable spending money, there's more confidence in the economy, and there's more confidence in our industry, so people are willing to stretch and buy. And I have to toot our own horn. We spend 52 weeks a year traveling this country and internationally trying to meet people to bring them here."

Keeneland dramatically reformatted the auction this year, opting to extend what previously had been a single Book One select session across four days. Keeneland also started the Book One sessions later, at noon instead of at the more traditional 10 a.m. or 11 a.m., but a number of bidders complained that even with the extra time they were unable to see all the horses on their lists under the new format.

But the first week's performance appears to have justified the changes, as select buyers stayed longer to sift through more horses. Book One saw 18 yearlings sell for $1 million or more, nearly three times as many millionaires than were sold last year and the most since 2008, when 18 also sold.

This year's million-dollar yearlings included the $2.5 million sale-topper, a War Front   colt out of stakes-placed Blading Gold Ring, by During  . Coolmore's M.V. Magnier signed for the colt on day four, the last of the Book One sessions. The Feb. 7 colt sold as part of Peter O'Callaghan's Woods Edge consignment and is bred very similarly to grade 1-placed Emerald Gold, the War Front filly who is his dam's half sister.

One other horse brought more than $2 million. That was the sale's $2.2 million top filly, a daughter of the late Indian Charlie and a half sister to grade I winners Will Take Charge and Take Charge Indy  . Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm bought her from the Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency.

The numbers rocketed through week two, and by early afternoon on Sept. 16--the seventh of 12 sessions--the auction already had grossed more than 2012's total of $219,781,500 for its complete 11-day sale.

At Saturday's final session, a pair of yearlings topped the session at $65,000. The first was a colt by first-crop sire Hold Me Back   out of the stakes-placed Wolf Power mare Living Fully; Joe Novogratz was the buyer from Scott Mallory's agency. Novogratz also led all buyers for the day by gross expenditures and by average (three or more bought) after purchasing three yearlings for $139,000 and an average price of $46,333.

The other session-topper was the day's highest-priced filly, a Belong to Me daughter of the Unbridled mare Wild Country. She is a half sister to Kens Cape, stakes-placed twice this year. Eisaman Equine bought her from the Paramount Sales agency.

Saturday's session ended with 195 yearlings bringing $2,913,200 for an average price of $14,939 and an $11,000 median. The buyback rate was 17.7%. There was no equivalent session last year, as the 2012 auction was one day shorter at 11 days.

WinStar Farm's Hold Me Back, sire of one of the session-toppers, was Saturday's leading sire by gross after six of his yearlings sold for $146,000. The day's leader by average price (three or more sold) was Gainesway Farm's Afleet Alex  , with four bringing an average price of $33,000.

Among the season's first-crop sires, Lane's End stallion Quality Road   was the leader by gross sales, with 45 yearlings bringing $5,538,000, while Claiborne's Blame   enjoyed the best average sale price, as 28 yearlings averaged $194,357.

Saturday's leading consignor by gross was Four Star Sales, which put 22 yearlings into their sold column for an aggregate $264,900, and the leader by average (three or more sold) was James Herbener, with an average sale price of $30,667 from three sales.

Consignors and Keeneland officials noted strong international interest in yearlings, although domestic buyers also continued to stay busy at all levels of the market. The days of repeated million-dollar clashes between Coolmore Stud and its archrival Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum of Darley Stud appear to be a thing of the past, but both Coolmore and the Maktoum made their presence felt.

At the close of business Saturday afternoon, Sheikh Mohammed's brother, Shadwell Estate Co. owner Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, was the auction's leading buyer overall after picking up 27 horses for a combined $11,600,000. M. V. Magnier led by average price paid (three or more purchased) with four yearlings averaging $1,475,000.

Among consignors, Taylor Made Sales easily led by gross, aided by its large consignment. The Nicholasville, Ky., farm sold 254 yearlings for $31,313,500, averaging $123,281. By average price (three or more sold), the leading seller was Clearsky Farms, which sold eight horses for an average of $321,875.

The Keeneland September sale also enhanced the reputations of two decidedly fashionable sires: Gainesway's sire Tapit   and Claiborne's stallion War Front  . Those two finished one-two in the race for leading sire by gross. Tapit was represented by 38 yearlings who brought $15,670,000, while War Front's 35 sold for $14,057,000. Coolmore sire Galileo, however, was tops by average price. With just five yearlings to sell, Galileo's progeny averaged $523,000.

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