Padua Stables’ Satish Sanan summed up the opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale in two words: “It’s brutal.” And the trends for the key business figures backed up his opinion. Compared to results for the auction’s first day last year, the gross revenue plummeted 55.5% Sept. 14 in Lexington while the average price dropped 35.9%. The median price declined 33.3%.
“People put a lot of money into stud fees two years ago, and the market is disastrous,” Sanan said soon after selling an A.P. Indy—Class Above filly, through Three Chimneys Sales, for $250,000. “There is no way you’re going to get your stud fees back. This is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
The opening session’s buy-back rate rose from 29% in 2008 to 41.2% this year, and for the first time at the September sale since 1996, no horse brought $1 million on the first day of the largest yearling auction in the world. Last year, there were five seven-figure horses, and the highest price was $3.1 million.
“It wasn’t quite as good as we expected,” said Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell. “There is no mistake that the pendulum has swung to the buyers’ side, but there’s no mistake that they are hesitant and careful in their bidding. I thought our auctioneers did a great job in trying their best to get things accomplished today, but it was tough out there. Readjustments are never easy, and we are in the middle of a major readjustment.”
The 107 horses that were sold during the first of the September auction’s two select sessions grossed $24,949,000 and averaged $233,168. The median was $200,000. Last year, when 154 horses were sold, the gross was $56,047,000. The average was $363,942, and the median was $300,000.
An imposing son of Unbridled's Song was the most expensive horse sold, bringing $925,000 from Demi O’Byrne of the Coolmore Stud buying team. Sanan said he also tried to buy the handsome gray colt but was not the immediate underbidder.
Produced from the 16-year-old stakes-winning Mari’s Book mare Goulash, the colt is a half-brother to Ashado, who was the champion 3-year-old filly in 2004 and the champion older female in 2005. Goulash’s other offspring include Sunriver, who scored in the 2007 Hollywood Turf Cup Stakes (gr. IT), and Saint Stephen, who captured the 2006 Native Diver Handicap (gr. III). All three of Goulash’s stakes winners are by Saint Ballado.
“He looks very much like Unbridled's Song,” said O’Byrne of the session-topping yearling. “He has that lovely head, exactly like the sire; it’s a most attractive head. The mare has been very good, hasn’t she? I would like to think it (the price) was a bargain. Time will tell.”
Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent for the colt’s breeders, Aaron and Marie Jones, consigned the yearling.
“He’s one of the nicest horses we’ve ever sold, and I thought that wasn’t very much money for him; it was a great buy,” said Taylor Made’s Frank Taylor. “Two years ago, he would have brought $4 million or $5 million. He’s a super horse.”
A Giant's Causeway filly, which is the second foal out of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri (by Jade Hunter), brought the opening session’s second-highest price of $800,000. Robert and Lawana Low of Springfield, Mo., purchased the chestnut yearling from Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency, agent. The Allen E. Paulson Living Trust bred the filly, whose 11-year-old dam was a $4.4-million buy-back, while in foal to Ghostzapper and offered by Hill ‘n’ Dale at this year’s Keeneland January horses of all ages sale.
The filly’s half-brother, Take Control (formerly named Vallenzeri), set a world Thoroughbred auction record during the Keeneland September sale’s opening session in 2008, when he was a $7.7-million buy-back while in the Hill ‘n’ Dale consignment. This past April, he was sold by Eddie Woods, agent, to Kaleem Shah for $1.9 million during the Keeneland juvenile auction.
“The buyers’ market here was definitely reflected in her price,” said Robert Low of Azeri’s yearling daughter. “I think she would have been worth twice that much in past times. It’s always dangerous talking about what Thoroughbred horses are really worth opposed to what you have to pay for them, but we’re proud to own her at that price, that’s for sure.”
When the filly goes to the racetrack, she will be trained by Danny Peitz, who sent out the Lows’ Capote Belle to win the 1996 Test Stakes (gr. I) and the couple’s Steppenwolfer to finish second in the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) and third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) in 2006.
“She’s very correct filly, and she seemed to have a really good mind,” said Robert Low of the $800,000 yearling. “She was well-behaved and very collected around the barn. Her whole presence was very positive. She is the nicest filly that we’ve ever had the fortune to purchase.”
Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, attended the opening session, and his bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, was the biggest spender, paying $4,830,000 for 14 yearlings. In 2008, Ferguson also was the leading buyer on the auction’s first day, spending $8,825,000 to acquire nine yearlings.
The September sale was scheduled to run through Sept. 28, with a break from selling Sept. 18.