Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland April Sale: Poised for a Rebound?

Auction is the last major select juvenile sale of the year.

The Keeneland sale of 2-year-olds in training, scheduled for April 5 in Lexington, will wrap up the select juvenile selling season, which has enjoyed some modest rebounds following 2009’s major setbacks.

“I don’t know if I would call it a recovery,” said consignor Jerry Bailey, “but we’ve stopped the free fall, hopefully. Things are looking a little better.”

The OBS February auction had three horses that sold for $400,000 or more apiece, bringing more money than 2009’s $340,000 sale topper. The Fasig-Tipton Florida and OBS March auctions generated increases in their average and median prices. And the Barretts March sale produced a gross that was down less than 1% from the previous year.

During the OBS March auction, the buy-back rate dropped dramatically, from 42.5% in 2009 to 27.8%, which is the lowest of any select juvenile auction so far this year.

“What we saw at the OBS March sale was very encouraging,” said consignor Niall Brennan. “There was a good, solid buyer base, not just at the top end of the market, but also in the middle. Horses in the $50,000 to $100,000 range were moving, and that was important. That’s where a guy selling horses can make a living and the people buying them also have a good shot to make money racing. Hopefully, that will carry over into the Keeneland sale.”

Horses scheduled to be offered include an A.P. Indy filly that is a half-sister to grade I winner Southern Image; a Johannesburg filly that is out of grade I winner Spain and is a half-sister to an Irish group III winner; a Songandaprayer colt that is out of champion Xtra Heat and is a half-brother to two stakes winners; and a Dynaformer colt that is a half-brother to Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) winner Eight Belles, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I).

“We like the catalog, and the horses have lived up to the expectations we had for them (physically) when we selected them,” Russell said. “I would love to have a continuation of the OBS March sale, which was a consistent market compared to the other sales, which tended to be polarized.”

There are 181 horses listed in the Keeneland catalog, but as of April 3, 53 (29.3%) had been scratched. Nearly all, 50, were declared out prior to the April 1 under tack show. According to Russell, some of the juveniles were sold at earlier juvenile auctions while others suffered injuries or became ill before they were scheduled to be shipped to Keeneland.

“There was probably more cross-entering of horses in sales than there has been in the past,” Russell said. “Consignors are trying to present these horses at the best possible time, and it’s diffiuclt to make that decision the first of January.”

Among the recent graduates of the Keeneland juvenile sale are champions Big Brown  (by Boundary) and Lookin At Lucky (by Smart Strike). Big Brown, who captured the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) and the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), was purchased for $190,000 by Hidden Brook, agent for Paul Pompa Jr., from Eddie Woods, agent, in 2007. Lookin At Lucky, who is a multiple grade I winner and a leading 2010 Kentucky Derby candidate, was purchased by Mike Pegram for $475,000 in 2009.

This year’s edition of the auction will begin at 4 p.m. (EDT).