Change Is the Theme for Keeneland Sale

It's a year of big changes for the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training.

It’s a year of big changes for the Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training, which will be conducted Tuesday and Wednesday in Central Kentucky.

The auction is a week earlier than usual, which puts it right before the Keeneland spring meeting’s premier race, the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). In addition, the number of under tack shows has been reduced from two to one, and that lone day of workouts is scheduled for Monday. The sale’s format also is different, with two evening sessions (each beginning at 7 p.m. EDT) instead of one afternoon session.

“It’s all up in the air right now,” said consignor Niall Brennan when asked how the changes would affect Keeneland’s market. In his opinion, the schedule switch to two night sessions “is a good idea to try and bring more action back.”  But, he added, “its Achilles' heel is that people aren’t going to have enough time to do their veterinary work if they’re not here prior to the under tack show, and they’re not going to have a lot of time to look at the videos.”

According to Keeneland’s director of sales Geoffrey Russell, the changes in the auction were made after consulting members of the National Association of 2-Year-Old Consignors (NATC). One of the goals, he said, was  “to get buyers to look at every horse prior to the gallop show and then weed them out based on the results instead of weeding them out using the results of the under tack show before looking at them. We want people to look at all the horses,” Russell explained. "We also want to get the horses to the buyers in optimum condition without having them standing around in their stalls for a week.”

The decision to hold two night sessions came about because “ we were having our only breeze show on Monday, so we didn’t think it would be very fair to have the sale starting at 1 p.m. Tuesday,” Russell said. “If you start at 7:00, you can’t really sell 200 horses in one night because everybody would be here too late. With two nights, if buyers don’t get everything they want Tuesday night, they still have Wednesday morning and afternoon to look at the Wednesday night horses before they bid on them.”

But Lane’s End Bloodstock’s Tim McMurry, who was inspecting Keeneland sale horses over the weekend, said the new format would make it difficult for him to get all his work done.

“I wish they would have given us another day (between the under tack show and the start of the sale),” he said. “I would like to have more time to critique the horses after they breeze. I like to review the films and see if they agree with what I saw on the racetrack. Wednesday night, the buyers will be up to speed and in good shape, but Tuesday night, they’re still going to be a little bit scattered.”

Russell said Keeneland officials are approaching the auction “with a very positive attitude that the changes will work. But everything, as it has been in the past, is always subject to review,” he added. “If we don’t get the results we want, maybe we’ll sit down with the NATC again and tinker with the format and come up with something slightly different. We’ll just have to see.”

Last year’s Keeneland April auction established a sale record for median price of $155,000, but the gross decreased 9.8% from 2006 to $16,637,000 while the average price declined 4.3% to $202,890. The buyback rate reached its highest level ever, soaring to 47.1%. A Mineshaft – Stylish Talent filly, now named Patricia’s Gem,  became the most expensive juvenile of her sex ever sold at the auction when she brought $1.75 million.

Keeneland’s April sale is the last major select auction in a juvenile selling season that this year has generated mixed results during trying economic times in this country.

“There has been a slight change at the top of the market,” Russell said. “I don’t think the breakout horses are as obvious as they have been in the past, and the two major buyers (Coolmore Stud and Sheikh Mohammed) have either decided not to bid against each other for the most part or they haven’t found the same horses to bid on.  The other major buyers have lowered their ceilings a little bit.

“ The OBS (Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.) sales,” he continued, “have shown that the middle market is very good at the moment. If horses tick all the boxes, as (Sheikh Mohammed’s bloodstock manager) John Ferguson likes to say, there is still plenty of money for them. We go into our sale very confident because we think the quality of our horses is strong.”

There are 191 horses cataloged for the Keeneland auction, but as of Sunday night, Keeneland’s Web site listed 45 that had been scratched.