Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Yearling Sale Ends Strong

Gross sales ended up 12.7% higher than a year ago, the average rose 18%.

The Keeneland September Yearling sale ended its 13-day run on a strong note Sept. 24 with gross sales climbing 12.7% to $223,487,800, the average price up 18% to $76,511, and the median price up 20% to $30,000 compared with the 14-day edition of this sale in 2010.

“We are very pleasantly surprised by the market being up pretty consistently throughout the sale,” said Bill Farish of Lane’s End Farm, the leading consignor with $27,437,000 in gross sales. Included in Lane’s End’s consignment were yearlings being dispersed out of the late Edward P. Evan’s estate. “The decrease in (the size of) the foal crop, lower production costs, and lower stud fees, have given buyers a new sense of confidence. They are more apt to want to race because they can get in at lower rates.”

The decrease in the foal crop has led to an overall rise in quality that in turn helped keep buyers active through the second week of the sale.

“In years past, we didn’t know many of the pedigrees or the people during the second week,” said Keeneland vice president of sales Walt Robertson. “As the foal crop has declined, the lesser pedigrees are out of the market. The quality is better than it was a year ago and far better than it was three years ago.”

As evidence of the sale’s depth, director of sales Geoffrey Russell points to the extraordinarily low buy-back rates seen during the last four sessions. From Wednesday, Sept. 21, through Saturday, Sept. 24, the buy-back rates were 13.7%, 17.33%, 13.32%, and 11.6%, respectively. For the comparable last four sessions of 2010, the buy-back rates were 23.24%, 23.42%, 35.41%, and 29.3%.

“It all comes back to a confidence in the market and the supply of lesser quality horses has been cut from the back,” Russell said.

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A significant influence on the second week of last year’s sale was the Alltech World Equestrian Games, which started during the last weekend of the Keeneland September sale. The demand for hotel rooms made it difficult for some buyers from out of town to attend the sale.

As for the sale overall, cutting Book Two from four days to three days made a significant difference to the bottom line. Reducing the size of Book Two raised the quality of these sessions and also pushed horses of relatively higher quality into Book Three, said sale officials.

“There is no question, the sale was stronger than we expected, and Book Two was lights out,” Russell said. The average price during Book Two (Sept. 13-15) was $53,445 with gross sales of $100,048,770. Three horses sold during these sessions sold for over $1 million—one for $1.35 million (Awesome Again —Legs Lawlor colt) and one for $1.3 million (Unbridled's Song—Lady of Choice filly). Last year’s Book Two generated an average price of $40,292 with gross sales of $98,393,728. Only one horse offered in Book Two of 2010 brought $1 million.

“I think everyone was pretty reassured,” said Kitty Taylor of Warrendale Sales. “This was a really solid, good sale. It’s encouraging to my clients. They all had pretty solid sales and they feel some encouragement. Everyone’s still being very cautious with their stud fees and the types of mares they are breeding. But I think everyone kind of feels like they’ve lived to fight another day.”

For the eleventh time, John Ferguson, acting on behalf of Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed, topped the buyer’s list. Ferguson paid $8,870,000 for 36 yearlings, followed closely by Benjamin Leon Jr.’s Besilu Stables, which purchased 13 yearlings totaling $8,175,000. Leon purchased two of the six million-dollar yearlings, including the $1.3 million Unbridled’s Song filly and a Bernardini —Silk n’Sapphire filly he bought for $1.2 million.

Domestic buyers accounted for three of the sale’s top five buyers. Besides Leon, they included Ben Glass, racing and bloodstock advisor for Gary and Mary West, who bought 21 yearlings for $5,225,000, and Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs, who purchased 44 horses for $4,574,000.

“People love to race; it’s showing up at all levels,” said Amende Place’s Lee McMillin, who sold a $500,000 Medaglia d'Oro  colt among six yearlings he sold. “I think lower stud fees have helped significantly. Your reserves are lower and people feel like they are getting more for their money. They’re not bidding against the reserve. I think when we are done here everyone’s going to feel a lot better about what they have out in the paddocks than they did a year ago at this time.”