Anne Eberhardt

Keeneland April: More of the Same?

Sellers are expecting another tough market at the Keenaland April juvenile auction.

Keeneland’s April auction is the year’s fifth and final major sale of 2-year-olds in training. The results for the previous auctions have been sobering, and most consignors are expecting to have a tough time again getting the prices they want for their horses April 6 and 7 in Lexington.

“You can’t expect it to be any better; it would be silly to think that,” said Eddie Woods, whose consignment includes Vallenzeri, who set a world Thoroughbred auction record as a $7.7-million buy-back at the 2008 Keeneland September yearling sale. “There have been no big moves anywhere in the economy or in the other horse sales that would make you believe that anything is going to be different here.”

The combined statistics for the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. February and March sales, the Fasig-Tipton Florida auction, and the Barretts March sale were a gross of $63,042,700 and an average price of $133,565 for the 472 horses sold. Compared to last year, when 497 juveniles were sold, the gross plunged 34% and the average dropped 30.5%. The buy-back rate rose from 35.6% to 38.3%.

“I think the buyers will come here and be just like they were at every other sale,” said Tony Bowling of All in Sales. “They’ll focus really hard on a handful of the horses, and if you’re lucky enough to have one in that handful, you’ll be in good shape. If you’re not, then it will be rough.”

One sign that consignors are nervous is the number of horses that have been scratched from the Keeleand juvenile auction. Based on information posted on Keeneland’s Web site, 69 (31.9%) of the 216 2-year-olds cataloged had been taken out of the auction as of April 5.

While injuries knocked some horses out of the sale, “I’m sure part of it is a function of the market,” said seller Niall Brennan. “If you had a horse that was a bit immature or backward, you were thinking, ‘Wait a minute, the way this market is now, I’m probably not going to be able to get this horse sold,’ so you just scratched it. There was no point in taking a horse like that to the sale hoping for the best, because it’s all or nothing now.”

Asked about the number of horses out of the sale, Keeneland director of sale Geoffrey Russell said, “It’s more than I prefer. But we are an out-of-state venue for most of our sellers. If horses are a little bit behind in training or have minor ailments, it’s not worth it to take a chance and bring them up here because they’re not going to preview right (in the under tack show). Also, I perceive that some of the horses that were entered in the sale are owned by end users who were going to take a shot and see what happened, but then probably made a business decision and said, ‘The way the market is at the moment, I might as well keep them.’ ”

The 2-year-olds that remain in the auction “have received good comments from the buyers that have been here,” Russell said. “They (the shoppers) enjoyed the under tack show, and they’ve been busy the last several days looking at the horses. We just hope that they all don’t end up on the same ones.”

Doug Cauthen, the president and chief executive officer of WinStar Farm, was looking at the Keeneland sale 2-year-olds April 4 and seemed satisfied with the quality.

"There are some nice horses here, and there's plenty of good pedigrees," he said. "The standoouts should sell OK. I hope we are able to get some for lower prices (than usual), and I think we should be able to. Our revenues are down for stallions and sale yearlings, so it's approriate that the prices are going to be down some for 2-year-olds."

Each session of the Keeneland sale begins at 7 p.m. (EDT).

Last year, the 77 horses sold at the auction grossed $16,299,000 and averaged $211,675. The median price was $150,000. The number sold was the lowest ever for the sale while the gross declined 2% from the previous year. The average rose 4.3%, and the median fell 3.2%. The buy-back rate declined from 47.1% in 2007 to 38.4%.