Joe DiOrio

Keeneland September Gross Down 14.8%

The Keeneland September yearling sale closed out its 15-session run in Lexington with downturns in every key business figure and gross revenue that fell short of last year’s total by a whopping $57,019,500. But even though the setbacks were significant, many participants in the auction were pleased by its performance at a time when the nation is reeling from a financial meltdown and there are growing economic woes abroad.

“I had no idea the stock market was going to do what it did, and that the whole financial system was going to face the near debacle that we saw,” Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency said Sept. 23, just hours before the sale ended. “Given the circumstances, I’m relieved and pleased with the results of this sale. The fact that this many people are willing to come out here and buy these horses is pretty amazing.”

The 3,605 yearlings that were sold grossed $327,999,100 and averaged $90,984. Their median price was $37,000. Compared with 2007 statistics, the number sold fell 5.1% from the world record for a single Thoroughbred auction of 3,799. The gross, which was the fourth highest in the September sale’s history, dropped 14.8% from $385,018,600. The average declined 10.2% from $101,347. And the median was down 11.9% from $42,000.

The gross, average, and median all fell for the second year in a row. The number sold declined for the first time since 2001.

“I would rather be standing here than at the New York Stock Exchange right now,” said Case Clay of Three Chimneys Sales.

While the buy-back rate was up, it didn’t increase dramatically because most consignors were prepared for the setbacks and set their reserves accordingly. This year, 24.8% of the yearlings failed to find new homes compared with 22.5% in 2007.

“We’ve known that this was coming, and now we’re here,” said Meg Levy of Bluewater Sales. “There’s still a demand for horses, but their price levels are considerably lower, and our costs of production are considerably higher.”

The top price for an individual horse fell from $3.7 million in 2007 to $3.1 million this year. The number of horses sold for $1 million or more declined from 32 to 18.

“Here we are in the middle of one of the greatest economic crises that this country has ever gotten itself into, and we still had the fourth-largest September sale (in terms of gross) in history; that speaks volumes about the optimism of the Thoroughbred industry,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “While $57 million is a huge chunk of money to be down by in gross, it could have been a lot more. It could have been $100 million. You have to put this in perspective, and I thought the sale was phenomenal considering the financial climate both in our own market and out in the world.”

During the auction’s final session, 149 horses sold for a gross of $1,135,600. The average was $7,621, and the median was $5,000. All the results were down from 2007, when the 172 horses sold on the last day grossed $1,551,500 and averaged $9,020. Their median was $5,750.

The buy-back rate fell from 25.2% in 2007 to 16.8% this year.

A Chapel Royal– McConnell Springs colt brought the final session’s highest price of $50,000. Diamond G Ranch purchased the yearling from Eaton Sales, agent for Overbrook Farm.

“Start to finish, I think the sale has been better than we ever could have expected,” said Eaton Sales’ Reiley McDonald. “At the end, the prices have fallen off and the demand has been really low for these less-expensive horses, and that’s probably because the state of the economy and the state of the horse business. We’re producing too many horses, and certainly we’re selling way too many horses in this one spot.”

Download the Data Digest Keeneland September Sale Results PDF.