Anne M. Eberhardt

Snow, Cold Don't Stop Show at Keeneland

Buyers brave brutal conditions to view January sale horses; consignors bundle up.

Conditions were brutal at Keeneland Jan. 9, two days before the start of the Central Kentucky auction company’s horses of all ages sale. There were several inches of snow on the ground, and more fell occasionally in flurries. The temperature was frigid and had reached only 20 degrees by early afternoon. The wind chill made it feel like single digits.

But that didn’t stop consignors from showing horses and shoppers from looking.

“We keep doing the same things as usual, but we’re just wearing more clothes,” said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales agency while standing in front of a diesel–powered heater. “The buyers are coming by, and it’s been busy over where the babies (short yearlings) are.”

Said bundled-up British bloodstock agent Anthony Stroud, “The main thing is getting your clothes right.”

Elliott Walden, the vice president and racing manager of WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky., found it easier to inspect horses than during sunny, warm weather.

“There’s not that many people out here to navigate through,” he said. “It’s hard to look at horses when there are a lot of people, and it’s hard to find an open spot (between the barns). You get distracted. Also, the horses aren’t jumping around. They’re comfortable, and if you’ve got the right clothes on, then you’re comfortable, too.”

But according to David Hanley of Whitechurch Farm, snow and icy temperatures can make the search for top short yearlings a little more difficult.

“Sometimes the horses don’t walk as well, and other times you can’t see their feet,” he said. “And sometimes, if the horses are really cold, they don’t show themselves that well. You have to try and see through a few things.”

At Legacy Bloodstock’s barn, there wasn’t  a lot of early morning action, and Mark Toothaker blamed the lack of lookers on the weather.

“It’s slow,” he said a little after 10 a.m. (EST). “Usually on the first day of showing for a sale, we’ve shown horses 25 times by now. Today, we’ve shown only about six times.”

Another consignor, Wayne Sweezey, was concerned that some buyers wouldn’t be able to make it to the auction because the snow and cold were slowing air travel.

“I hope the weather improves a little bit because I think it might stop people from coming,” Sweezey said. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people who haven’t been able to get here yet, and I don’t know if they are going to get here. Several European agents I know have gotten hung up trying to get here and that could affect business a bit. I always worry about the weather causing people to not want to make the effort.”

But sometimes bad weather can be a good sign for a sale, according to pinhooker and breeder Lance Robinson of Utah.

“The last time there was a sale like this with this kind of weather, everybody thought they were going to be able to ‘steal’ horses and so everybody showed up and bought horses,” he said.

Keeneland associate director of sales Tom Thornbury also thought the bad weather could turn out to be a positive development.

“A lot of times when you have weather like this, people think they are going to be able to get bargains,” Thorbury said. “It might jazz things up a little bit.”

The Keeneland sale has 1,753 lots in its catalog and will run for five days, ending Jan. 15. Selling will begin each day at 10 a.m. (EST).