To Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency, the results for the first week of the Keeneland September yearling sale were much better than he thought they would be.
“I was expecting a near disaster, and I think it turned out pretty good,” he said during the auction’s sixth session Sept. 17 in Lexington.
The weakness of the American economy and the shaky condition of the Thoroughbred industry were causing a lot of anxiety before the largest sale of its kind in the world opened with a new format that made many sellers nervous with changes that included night sessions for the auction's select portion. But prior to a one-day break from selling Sept. 18, the auction turned in a solid performance that encouraged both sale company officials and consignors.
The average price for the first six sessions combined was $150,890, an increase of 19.6% from a year ago. The median price of $100,000 was up 25%. In addition, the buy-back rate fell, from 33.4% in 2009 to 30.6%.
The cumulative gross of $141,987,500 was down only 5.9% even though the number of horses sold experienced a much sharper decline of 21.3% while falling to 941.
“To be where we are at this point in the sale is heartening,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “The select sessions on Sunday and Monday evenings (Sept. 12 and 13) created a momentum that carried through the (four) book two sessions (that followed). I think the new format was a great success. Our job was to put as many horses in front of as many buyers as we could and to retain the buyers for all of the sale’s first week, and I think we accomplished that.”
A rangy Unbridled's Song colt topped the sixth session, bringing $560,000. Tom and Bonnie Hamilton’s Kentucky-based Silverton Hill operation purchased the gray or roan yearling, with bloodstock agent Ben McElroy signing the sale ticket after fighting off trainer Tony Dutrow and Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm.
“He is a very athletic horse by a top sire and his half brother, Sherriff Cogburn (by Vindication), looks like a very promising 2-year-old,” said McElroy, who was sitting in the sale pavilion with Tommy Hamilton during the bidding. “It was a bit more than we wanted to give, but he is a nice horse. The top horses that have walked in here today have all brought around that. You have to pay for the good ones. Hopefully (he’ll be) a two-turn horse on the first Saturday in May.”
The colt’s dam, Sweet Nanette (by You and I), captured the 2000 Pontalba Stakes and the 2001 Thelma Stakes at the Fair Grounds. She also scored in the 2001 Bourbonette Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Turfway Park and the 2002 Saylorville Stakes at Prairie Meadows while earning $392,845.
Sweet Nanette’s most accomplished offspring so far, Sherriff Cogburn romped to a 9 1/4-length victory in this year’s Prairie Meadows Juvenile Mile Stakes. He is owned by country singer Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farms and is undefeated in two career races.
“I know the family and I saw that 2-year-old (Sherriff Cogburn) run,” Tommy Hamilton said. “He has a lot of talent and made me think of a lot of this horse (the Unbridled’s Song yearling), which is a beautiful animal.”
The sale division of the Beck family’s Gainesway Farm consigned the $560,000 colt, as agent, for Eldon Farm Equine, which is headed by Ken Luke.
“In my opinion, he was one of the most beautiful yearlings that we had all year long,” said Brian Graves, Gainesway’s director of public sales. “He had perfect balance and he looked just like Unbridled’s Song to me. I, particularly, was very high on him. The price was a little north of what I thought we would get for him in this market and in book two (of the sale catalog).”
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert signed the sale tickets for the second-, third-, and fourth-most-expensive yearlings sold during the sixth session. He purchased a $500,000 Ghostzapper – Skipping Around colt in the name of Hoods Up Stable for the partnership of Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman that owns champion and Preakness (gr. I) winner Lookin At Lucky. He bought a $470,000 Malibu Moon – Robbery Suspect colt for the Lanni Family Trust. And he acquired a $420,000 Lemon Drop Kid – Summer Delight colt for Robert LaPenta’s Whitehorse Stable.
Whitehorse previously has been associated with another Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito, who also was shopping for LaPenta at the September sale.
The results for the sixth session included a gross of $23,297,500 for the 217 horses that sold. The average was $107,362 and the median was $85,000. The buy-back rate was 26.7%.
The auction will resume Sept. 19 and is scheduled to run through Sept. 26, with each session beginning at 10 a.m. (EDT).