As the Keeneland September yearling sale entered its third session Sept. 10, there was unanimity among the major players that the results so far indicated a strong, competitive auction market.
Though the number of yearlings sold for seven figures during the first two days of the sale in Lexington was five, down from eight at the same point a year ago, gross receipts were ahead of 2013 with fewer horses sold; double-digit gains in average and median prices were positive signs of broad-based strength.
After two days, 241 horses had been sold for $70,953,000. The cumulative average of $294,411 was 13.8% ahead of last season's $258,814, while the median was 25% higher than last year at $250,000 versus $200,000.
Morning activity at the barns was brisk, in some cases with people and horses competing for space.
Bidding during the first day Sept. 8 bordered on the side of caution, though the numbers were up from the comparable session a year ago. The dynamic ramped up Sept. 9 as it wasn't uncommon to hear buyers complain they were not getting what they wanted.
If that trend continues, some buyers who traditionally only buy Book 1-type individuals may find themselves in Lexington over the weekend when Book 2 begins.
'I have bought three and was outbid on three or four more," trainer Eric Guillott said. "I want a total of six in the range that I look in. If I get outbid today, I will start looking at Book 2 horses."
"It is very strong," said Craig Bandoroff, whose Denali Stud sold an Unbridled's Song colt for $1.3 million during the Tuesday session. "With the average up as much as it is, the median up as much as it is, and the gross being up with fewer horses sold, it is a nice tale of the tape."
Bandoroff, consistently one of the leading consignors, said the Unbridled's Song colt had been shown an unprecedented 250 times before going through the ring.
Tom Thornbury, associate director of sales at Keeneland, said the number of million-dollar yearlings could still approach last year's total of 18, but if that doesn't transpire it wouldn't reflect a lack of strength at the sale.
"I am a 'median' guy, and when I see the median go up, that means more money to more people," he said. "That tells me there is more confidence in the buying. We have tried to bring in as diverse a group of buyers we could get, both domestically and internationally, and I think this shows that."
Thornbury said some consignors have had to re-order more of the cards they provide potential buyers when they come to inspect yearlings.
Peter O'Callaghan, whose Woods Edge Farm sold a War Front colt for $2.5 million to top the 2013 sale, said the market was solid in the mid-price range but selective above that.
"In that $200,000-400,000 range there looks to be quite a bit of competition, but getting beyond that it is very rarified air," he said. "It takes something special to get beyond that."