Keeneland’s juvenile auction, which is scheduled for April 9 in Lexington, will close out a selling season for select 2-year-olds in training that has been generally positive.
The Barretts, Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co., and Fasig-Tipton Florida auctions that preceded it all posted increases in average and median prices. In addition, the Barretts and OBS sales enjoyed upswings in their grosses.
“All the sales have been pretty strong and I’m sure you’re going to see the same thing again here,” trainer Mark Casse said. “For the type of horse we are looking for, which is a two-turn horse, Keeneland has this year’s strongest catalog. When I ‘short list’ horses by pedigree, I’m usually only interested in less than 15% of a catalog. But with this sale, I found myself interested in probably 50%, which is quite a big difference.”
The Keeneland auction’s under tack show produced some impressive times, which should help increase the appeal of its juveniles to buyers. Seven horses worked an eighth of a mile in :9 4/5 on the synthetic Polytrack surface.
“Historically, this has been a fast track, but the rain and cool weather we had tightened it a lot, so it was very fast,” Niall Brennan said.
The Florida pinhooker is hoping Keeneland will continue to build on the auction’s 2011 performance that he described as “solid throughout.” The results included a gross, average, and median that dropped only 3.7%, 2.4%, and 3.7%, respectively. The buy-back rate declined to 32.7% from 36.6% in 2010.
“If it is similar to last year, there will be more depth and there will be more horses moving in the mid-price ranges versus the all-or-nothing (situation) we saw at the Fasig-Tipton sale,” Brennan said. “The timing has always been very good for this sale. Maybe it’s because of the spring racing at Keeneland and it’s when the 2-year-olds are starting to run.”
Even though the Keeneland auction is the year’s fourth and last select sale of 2-year-olds, big-spending shoppers still seem eager to buy. Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, who represents Stonestreet Stables’ Barbara Banke, attended the auction’s under tack show and so did Tom McGreevy, who advises Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm.
California-based bloodstock agent Bob Feld, who is shopping for Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm, also was on hand.
“The market has gotten stronger this year, and I’ve found it impossible to buy even though we doubled our budget,” Feld said. “We even got a little bit crazy and got outbid going crazy. We haven’t been able to buy a horse yet. But we’ll just keep to our program and see what happens.
"There were a couple of years when the market was off and people started feeling sorry for the pinhookers. Now, all of a sudden, they’re having to pay huge money for horses, so the buyers’ market was very short-lived.”
The Keeneland sale has 161 horses in its catalog. The number is down 4.7% from last year’s total of 169. Forty-six 2-year-olds had been scratched as of April 6, according to information posted on Keeneland’s website (www.keeneland.com).
“You have to go into this sale with a good feeling,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “At the moment, the 2-year-old sales are doing very well, and there is plenty of interest here as was shown by the large crowd at our breeze show.
“The top end of the market is very strong compared to last year, and there is great interest in Thoroughbred racing. But it also is a very selective market. If people can’t buy the actual horse they like, they don’t drop down to the next level.”
Virginia bloodstock agent Debbie Easter agreed with Russell’s comment that buyers of select 2-year-olds are extremely picky.
“It won’t be a lot different than it has been,” she said. “If you have something that is very nice, there will be plenty of buyers here to buy it. But if a horse doesn’t jump through all the hoops, (the buyers) just don’t want it. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad horse; it just means it couldn’t jump through every hoop.”
The Keeneland auction will start at 4 p.m. EDT.