The barn area at Keeneland was bustling with activity Friday, Sept. 12, as buyers and sellers transitioned from the four-day Book 1 start of the September yearling sale to the two-day Book 2 horses selling over the weekend.
Reflecting on the results of the Sept. 8-11 sessions, there was a consensus that the decision by the sales company to expand Book 1 from a highly selective two-day sale starting last year was wise, although it was still less than perfect.
There were 473 horses sold over the four days for a gross of more than $142.1 million, producing 7% and 15.7% increases in average and median, respectively
With some of North American's leading trainers and the major agents and buyers from around the world still in town inspecting Book 2 horses, there was a lot of energy on the sales grounds Friday, a dark day for the auction that will resume at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday.
While the first four sessions saw spirited and competitive bidding, the results of which were reflected in the numbers, some still believe the format needs some changes.
"We got a lot of what we wanted; you never get everything you want," said trainer Mark Casse, who was among the most active buyers of Book 1 horses. "But I got more than I probably could have dreamed.
"We have some owners who are allowing us to step up and buy in Book 1. I have been coming here for 46 years; I bought my first horse at Keeneland when I was 8 years old and I am 54 now. I started out in Books 5 and 6, then moved up to 3 and 4, and then Book 2. Because of the people I train for, I am now buying in Book 1.
"Of course, you like buying these types of horses, but now the pressure is on to produce."
Jack Wolf, co-managing partner of Starlight Racing, which bought 10 horses during the first four days of the sale, said the opening Sept. 8 session was more conducive for purchases by Starlight's agent, Frankie Brothers.
"On the first day, we bought what we wanted and got five," said Wolf, adding that Starlight would likely purchase about six more yearlings at Keeneland. "From then on, it was very difficult."
While the Book 1 results were strong, with 13 yearlings bringing final bids in excess of $1 million, some said the numbers still were more of the same pattern seen over the last several years at most sales: strength at the top and not so much in the lower price ranges.
"Any time you get the kind of numbers on top the last four days registered, it looks terribly strong and it was in spots," said Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales. "But if you really dive into what was happening, probably half the horses in there fell on hard times. So, if you're not in that upper half as a group, at least physically, it is a pretty limited market for you and there are some pretty deep cracks to fall into.
"That said, it was a good sale for the better horses," said McDonald. "I am very pleased with how we have done; it's been a good market for the select horses."
Craig Bandoroff also expressed pleasure with the Book 1 results, noting that his and Holly Bandoroff's Denali operation sold 20 of the 24 horses sent through the ring.
With Book 1 expanded, some consignors are still tweaking their programs in trying to find the proper level for each individual, McDonald said.
"If I could go back and do it again, I would have a third fewer horses in Book 1, and that bottom third would be in Book 2," he said. "It would be a much better place for them. But this is a select sale and it was very good at the top."
McDonald and some other consignors and buyers agreed that Keeneland should consider cutting Book 1 to three days, but with the same approximate number of horses cataloged and with longer daily sessions. For each of the first four days of the sale, the auction began at noon and was generally concluded by 5:30 or 6 p.m. Most of the Book 1 inspections had been completed by the end of the second day and the Book 2 horses were not on the sales grounds yet.
"I think it (longer daily sessions) would give the buyers who are there to look at horses more to do," McDonald said. "On days 3 and 4, in the mornings they were twiddling their thumbs. They were there to work and there was nothing for them to do. I think the format is good, but if they tweaked it at all, that's what I think they should do."
Keeneland sales officials said they were pleased with the results of Book 1, noting that the increase in median meant more sellers are being rewarded financially.
"We are very pleased with the strong performance, particularly the increases in average and median prices, which are critical indicators," Keeneland vice president of sales Walt Robertson said in a statement. "The jump in median price indicates that the money is being spread out among many, not just a few. That is an exceptionally positive result."
"As we saw last year, buyers are responding very favorably to a realistic market," Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell said. "Consignors continue to be rewarded for bringing quality individuals to market and for setting fair reserves."
Keeneland officials have said in the past they conduct a post-sale review of each auction to see if any changes are needed before that sale is held again.