Headley Bell

Headley Bell

Anne M. Eberhardt

Sept. Sale Forum: The Select Format's Future

Read what auction participants think about keeping or ending the select format.

The select portion of the Keeneland September yearling sale, with 132 horses cataloged, is smaller than it's ever been. The popularity of that part of the auction has waxed and waned over the years with horsemen.

Keeneland officials changed the format this year in an effort to make it more convenient for buyers and sellers. There is one Monday select session that begins in the afternoon instead of two Sunday and Monday nighttime select sessions.

But the shrinking size of the select group of horses, set to be offered Sept. 10 in Lexington, could be a sign that the auction's select portion, which has been around since 1989, is on the endangered list. The number of select yearlings sold during the September auction fell to its lowest point of 127 in 2010 and reached only 129 last year. Those totals are way down from the peak of 599 in 1994.

Auction participants' opinions about the select part of the September sale are mixed. Read what some of them had to say:

Ben Walden, Pauls Mill: "You've got to start somewhere in a sale. This year I had some Dynaformers, so Keeneland put me here and I'll have to make the best of it. We'll see how it goes.

"I think the market is leery of this format. Even if they are committed to buying a nice horse, people don't want to get in there and compete against huge sources of disposable income that are more liberally applied to the market. They want to get in there and compete against real folks who are trying to buy a nice horse. As a result, you get owners who really just want to sit on their hands until about book two or three (of the sale catalog) when you're getting into a more legitimate marketplace. As a result, it's a little nerve-racking to be in this (select) book.

"If you're in the top 10 horses, you're fine. But when you get outside of the top 10, which everybody wants, that's where it gets a little dicey.

"(Because book one and book two horses are stabled in different barns), I've got a lovely horse selling on day two that I'm not going to get to show and market myself. I've got good people who work for me, but it's not the same."

Dell Hancock, Claiborne Farm: "I do like it (the new select format) and I'll tell you why. I think it gives the trainers time to run their horses (over the weekend) and get here so they can look at the sale horses.

"I hope it works out. I think Keeneland has done a good job. They're trying something different and they're trying to put a little zip into it. I think that's good."

Lyn Burleson, Burleson Farms: "Being a small consignment, we're limited on help and top people. We're hands on and do it ourselves, so it's just hard to be in two barns at one time (when the select horses and the book two horses are stabled at different locations). But we do what we have to do. At the end of the day, it all works out fine."

Pat Costello, Paramount Sales: "Hopefully, it (the first part of the sale) will be part of one big book next year. I think that would be be much easier for everybody if it's all mixed into the one book. You're all in one place (as a consignor) and I think everyone would be more comfortable with it."

Case Clay, Three Chimneys Sales: "If I had my preference, I would do a part one with four sessions. I love the Tattersalls (October yearling sale) format; I think it works really well. The horses are all in there mixed together for part one and people stay for all the days. It's proven to work at Tattersalls and I think we're almost there here."

Matt Lyons, Woodford Thoroughbreds: "I like it (the select part of the sale). These horses that are in this group are pretty special. We've probably gotten a lot more action on them because people have had more time to see them. It's a good thing to start the sale out with a bit of a buzz and see how it goes."

Neil Howard, Gainesway Sales: "I would be surprised if there isn't a select session next year. I think you'll see Monday Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in one book with horses (arranged) alphabetically (by their dams' names) With Brian Graves, Michael Hernon, and myself, we can split ourselves up and we can be down here (in one barn) and up there (in another barn). But for a lot of other consignors, it's tough.
"The idea was to have something similar to Saratoga (the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction) to showcase the best horses in the nighttime and add a little bit of glitz and glamour to the whole thing. But it's gotten so business-like that I don't think people really care about glitz and glamour anymore; they just want to see the horses."

Jody Huckabay, Elm Tree Farm:  "It's getting harder and harder to find those animals that fit into select part. I don't think as a consignor a whole lot of us want to be the first one up on the block. But again, I think there's a little pizazz from being in the select session. There are some clientele who want to buy a select horse. It's Keeneland decision (to offer a select session), not mine as a consignor. It wouldn't bother me (if there wasn't a select session)."

Headley Bell, Mill Ridge Sales and Nicoma Bloodstock: "I'd lump them (the horses in book one and two) all together. I don't see any advantage to doing that (a select session). There isn't that much difference, relatively, in those horses and you can absorb the hundred and whatever select horses into several days of selling. The select concept hasn't worked for some time if you really think it out."