Ben Leon Jr. at the Keeneland September Sale.

Ben Leon Jr. at the Keeneland September Sale.

Joe DiOrio

September Sale Opens With Upswings

Gross, average, and median all rise during the first session.

With domestic buyers playing aggressively at the top of the market, the Keeneland September yearling sale got off to a promising start Sept. 11 in Lexington. In the first of two evening select sessions, the gross revenue rose 5.4% from a year ago while the average price increased 8.6%. The median price, meanwhile, grew 40%.

American buyers purchased both of the horses that sold for seven-figure prices and the biggest spender was Florida resident Benjamin Leon Jr.’s Besilu Stables, which paid $3 million for four yearlings. Last year, Leon bought the $4.2 million sale-topper, Mr. Besilu (by A.P. Indy), during the September auction's opening session.

“There were a number of good, solid outcomes from today’s session,” said Walt Robertson, Keeneland’s vice president of sales. “We had two horses sell for more than a million dollars compared to one that sold in this session last year. The top two buyers of the top two horses were domestic, yet several of the top hips sold to international buyers, indicating a depth within the buying bench. All in all, we’re pleased with how this session went.”

The results included a gross of $25,260,000 for the 67 horses that were sold (compared to 69 a year ago). The average was $377,015 and the median was $350,000.

The only disappointing statistic was the buy-back rate, which increased to 32.3% from 25.8% in 2010.

“Clearly, the buyers remain discerning in this market,” Robertson said.

A stately son of A.P. Indy was opening session’s most expensive horse, commanding $1.4 million. The bay yearling's new owners are a partnership that includes former Mattel chairman and CEO John Amerman and his wife, Jerry (who sold Mr. Besilu in 2010 through Mill Ridge Sales), and Robert S. Evans. Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale’s wife, Shawn Dugan, said there is another member of the partnership who wishes to remain anonymous “for a little while.” After the colt is prepared for racing, he will be sent to Drysdale, who trained A.P. Indy, the 1992 Horse of the Year.

According to bloodstock agent, Bob Feld, who is an adviser to the Amermans, Drysdale and his wife approached him about the possibility of forming a partnership late in the afternoon prior to the session’s start.

“I thought it was a great idea,” Feld said. “He’s a gorgeous colt and there aren’t too many A.P. Indys left (since the stallion has been pensioned). Neil thought he looked more like A.P. Indy than any other colt he’s ever seen before. I called the Amermans and I said, ‘I really think it is a good idea.’ The upside is phenomenal on this horse if Neil can win a stakes race, let alone a graded stakes or the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).”

The colt is the second foal out of the 6-year-old winning Deputy Minister mare Malka. His other family members include 2010 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands winner Super Saver , champion Rhythm, and grade I winners Bluegrass Cat , Girolamo (by A.P. Indy).

“I really can’t believe he went for $1.4 million; he is priceless as far as I’m concerned,” Feld said. “There aren’t going to be too many colts that look that with that kind of pedigree. I thought it was a very good price for him.”

Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consigned the yearling and Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and Philip Steinberg bred him in Kentucky.

“It was right at the level and in the range we thought,” said Hill ‘n’ Dale’s John Sikura of the colt’s price. “He is an outstanding horse and I’m thrilled that Neil Drysdale bought him. If anyone knows A.P. Indy and what they (the stallion’s progeny) should look like, it’s Neil. Whenever you sell a horse for a million dollars in this market, it’s a lot of money. He’s one of the very few horses in the catalog that if he is successful he can be worth any amount of money. It’s a proven nick and it’s a great family. We need this kind of horse to sell well to stay in business.”

A son of Street Cry brought the session’s second-highest price of $1.2 million. The gray or roan yearling went to Californian George Bolton, who was bidding on the telephone through Keeneland sales account executive Mark Maronde. Bolton’s bloodstock agent is Kentucky-based John Moynihan, who is an adviser to Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, which bred the gray or roan yearling.


Bolton races 2010 Iroquois Stakes (gr. III) winner Astrology  in partnership with Stonestreet. As a member of a partnership that involved Stonestreet and others, Bolton also owned an interest in 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin  for part of that runner’s career.

“John Moynihan and I were out at the Stonestreet yearling operation together twice this year,” Bolton said. “I saw this horse grow up and whenever you can see a horse grow up and know a horse from his early days on, it obviously is a huge advantage as a buyer. The biggest thing was that this was my agent’s favorite yearling on the farm as the spring went on. Most of all, he was the one John Moynihan wanted me to buy.”

The colt is the third foal out of the 10-year-old Unbridled's Song mare Forest Music and is a half brother to the winner Maclean’s Music (by Distorted Humor ). Forest Music captured the 2005 Honorable Miss Handicap (gr. II), 2004 Adena Stallions’ Miss Preakness Stakes (gr. III), and three other added-money events. 

“I thought he would go for less. I felt like $700,000 to $900,000 would be about the number,” Bolton said. “I started bidding at $850,000 and whoever was bidding against me hammered me very quickly. I was surprised I even got the horse.”

Gainesway Farm’s sale division consigned the Kentucky-bred yearling for Stonestreet.

“I’m speechless for the first time ever,” said an elated Michael Hernon, Gainesway’s director of sales. “What can I say? It’s a wonderful country, it’s a great business, anything can happen, and it just did. I was blown away

“That was way beyond our expectations,” he continued, “but that’s not to say it’s unrealistic. It’s a great result for Stonestreet and we’re delighted that they had Gainesway consign the horse. He is very well-related, he’s out of a major running mare, he’s a super athletic, good-moving horse, and he’s by a top stallion. And there you have it.”

Sheikh Hamdan of Dubai was the opening session’s second-biggest spender, paying $2,880,000 for six horses in the name of Shadwell Estate Co. Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, didn’t attend the auction for the second year in a row, but his bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, ranked third among buyers, spending $2,030,000 for six yearlings.

Japanese shoppers also were active and included Nobutaka Tada, who paid $1,235,000 for three horses.

The auction continues through Sept. 24, with a day off from selling Sept. 16.

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