Anne M. Eberhardt

Keeneland Adopts New Format for Fall Sale

Keeneland officials say changes reflect a changing Thoroughbred industry.

Keeneland announced March 5 a major format change in its marathon September yearling sale, which will begin with two selected sessions of 100 horses each selling during night sessions Sept. 12-13.

The selected sessions will be followed by four sessions comprising Book 2, in which about 325 horses will be offered daily. Following a dark day on Saturday, the sale will resume with Book 3 offerings during the second week.

The sale will conclude Sept. 25 or Sept. 26, with a final determination made once the number of horses consigned is known. Keeneland accepts all horses nominated to the September yearling sale.

In making the announcement, Keeneland officials said the new format will allow them to sell the same number of horses as in the past but in a more relaxed atmosphere and in a way that is more appealing to buyers and sellers.

"We have been working in collaboration with our customers, particularly our consignors, over the last few years to develop a format that fits the current dynamics and needs of our buyers and sellers," Keeneland president and chief executive officer Nick Nicholson said. "The new format reflects the changing Thoroughbred industry."

Director of sales Geoffrey Russell said the new format will "help create more stability and continuity for the marketplace as economic conditions begin to slowly rebound both domestically and internationally."

The changes are the first significant since Keeneland stopped conducting its selected July sale in 2003, and are consistent with the sale company’s philosophy of adapting to fit changes within the marketplace and buying habits, Nicholson said.

"The major changes that have taken place -- because of people’s travel habits, because of the makeup of the buying community, and how long they can spend in Lexington – has meant that this format has had several significant changes," Nicholson said. "This format is a reflection of the times we live in."

Nicholson said Keeneland began discussing the format change about three years ago, and likely would have implemented it in 2009 were it not for the economic downturns in the marketplace over the past two years.

"We felt that because of the realities of 2009 that it would not be a good year to introduce a new format," he said. "The economy was previewing the fact it was likely to be a rough year anyway."

Nicholson said the reduced number of horses being offered on the first two days will allow buyers and consignors at the top end of the market to have more time to inspect and review the horses in a less hectic atmosphere. That will be followed by four days in which the horses will be offered in a catalog that will go through the alphabet.

"It will allow us to have more quality product in front of the larger professional buyers before we have our dark day, and we know that the buyers will like that and have heard from the consignors that they would like that also," Nicholson said.

Having two selected night sessions is a throwback to the "boutique" July sale in which the horses were sold in an atmosphere that provided more of a social event than the more businesslike environment in which the September sale has been conducted in recent years as the number of horses being offered grew.

"An important comment made to us was that, in a way, September had become way too businesslike and that we were just churning people through here," Russell said, adding that the new format will allow buyers more time to engage in other activities while they are in Lexington for the auction.  "We believe nighttime sessions will add that extra level of excitement."

Nicholson said Keeneland and sale consignors would likely schedule more social events around the sale. "They will be well-fed and nobody will leave here thirsty, unless they choose to do so," he said.

Nicholson and Russell both said the format change was not related to the recent ownership change and more aggressive approach by competitor Fasig-Tipton Co. "We have been discussing this since the end of the July sale," Nicholson said.

Because consignors prefer the latter calendar dates of the September sale because it allows more time for the yearlings to develop, Nicholson said it is unlikely Keeneland would reinstitute the July sale.