The Keeneland September yearling sale crossed the finish line of its marathon run Sept. 21 in Lexington with average and median prices that increased for the third year in a row. The average rose 14.2% from 2011 while the median grew an impressive 50% to equal the auction record that was established in 2006.
The gross, meanwhile, declined only 1.7% even though the number of horses that were sold dropped 13.9%. The buy-back rate fell to 19.2% from 20.8% last year.
"It was a wonderful sale from start to finish," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, following the end of the auction’s 11th and final session. "I think we have a good, solid foundation for our industry to build on."
The final results included a gross of $219,781,500 for the 2,516 yearlings that were sold. The average price was $87,354 and the median price was $45,000. The average reached its highest point since 2008’s figure of $90,984.
Seven yearlings commanded $1 million or more apiece compared to six in 2011. A Distorted Humor colt out of grade I winner Mushka topped the auction, bringing $1.65 million, which was higher than last year’s price peak of $1.4 million.
What made the auction’s statistics especially impressive was that three of the five biggest spenders last year–Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager John Ferguson (ranked first), Benjamin Leon’s Besilu Stables (second), and Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs (fifth)–either didn’t buy or reduced their participation significantly.
"We filled those holes very well," Russell said. "The ladies (working) in credit have never been busier and people requested higher spending limits. We had new people and people who came back after being absent for several years. Our emerging markets program was an important part of the sale’s success. We had increased particpation from the foreign markets that we spent extra time on this year. From Sunday (Sept. 16) onwards, we had an unprecedented number of people from overseas here. The participation from domestic buyers was strong throughout."
Russell declined to provide specific information about foreign spending, saying: "We’re not naming the countries. Why should we tell our competitors which ones they are?"
Sheikh Hamdan of Dubai topped the buyers’ list based on gross expenditures. In the name of his Shadwell Estate Co., he spent $8,250,000 for 17 yearlings.
Suzi Shoemaker of Lantern Hill Farm sold horses late in the auction and was pleased with how robust the market was compared to the recent past.
"There are certainly more people here than I’ve ever seen looking for horses in Book Six (of the sale’s catalog)," she said. "There are a lot of new faces and a lot of new accents. There pretty much is a bidder for every horse, but I don’t think anyone is going crazy. Even so, it’s so much better than it was last year."
During the final session, 146 yearlings were sold for a gross of $1,805,000. The average was $12,363 and the median was $7,500. The buy-back rate was 7.6%.
A Giacamo–Slam’s Honor colt named Bullish brought the day’s highest price of $50,000. Travis-Morgeson VI purchased the yearling from Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.
"This sale has been just awesome," said Mike McMahon of McMahon & Hill Bloodstock. "Sellers in the back end of the auction especially needed a good sale, and it simply was a matter of supply and demand. There were fewer horses and the same number of or maybe more buyers. People will probably be looking to buy mares later in the fall for the first time in a long time. They’ll be building fences and fixing barns."
Taylor Made's Mark Taylor described the auction as "great." Taylor Made was the sale's leading consignor based on gross receipts, selling 242 yearlings for $23,752,000.
"Leading up to the sale I thought if demand could hold steady with last year, the sale would keep getting stronger as people came to the realization that (they are) running out of horses and we need to get our orders filled," Taylor said. "What is amazing to me is how few horses Darley (Ferguson representing Sheikh Mohammed) bought. A while ago I would have thought that (Ferguson's diminished participation) would have led to a catastrophic downturn. But that void was able to be filled. It shows that the horse business, and Keeneland September in particular, is resilient.
"It's the global marketplace, and when there is an opportunity, people are going to take advantage of it," he added.