Keeneland pumped up the promotion of its April sale of 2-year-olds in training last year, and the effort paid off as the auction enjoyed increases in its gross revenue, average price, and median price, which set a sale record. But can Keeneland keep the momentum going Tuesday, when the latest edition of the sale will be held in Central Kentucky?
"We hope so," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. "We followed the same principles that we followed last year. We did a lot of individual recruiting of buyers domestically and internationally -- East Coast, West Coast, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Japan. We did a preview DVD that we mailed out and we aired on television (TVG and HRTV) that was well-received."
But while many statistics at Keeneland last year were positive, the buy-back rate was 40.8%. Sixty-one percent of the horses cataloged were scratched or bought back by their consigners.
"All sale company officials and all sale companies want the lowest RNA rate possible, but it (a high buy-back percentage) is a dynamic of the 2-year-old market," Russell said. "Consignors have a large amount of money invested in these horses, and they have to protect their investment. It's something that we just have to live with."
This year's auction marks the first time that workouts for a juvenile sale in North America have been conducted on a synthetic surface. The times were extremely fast over Keeneland's Polytrack, with two horses working the quickest ever quarter miles (:20 1/5) for a sale of 2-year-olds in training and another tying the mark for an eighth of a mile (:9 3/5). In all, 10 horses breezed an eighth in under :10.
Russell believes all the quick clockings will help consignors in marketing their horses, keeping buyers from focusing on just a handful in the catalog.
"The 2-year-old sales are driven by the times, so buyers tend to look at the fastest works and to like those horses," Russell said. "Last week's preview had a huge number of very good times, so we hope that will spread the buyers further through this catalog. They won't just highlight five or six horses."
Originally, 226 horses were listed in the catalog, but as of Monday, no fewer than 49 had been scratched. Last week, Keeneland added the juvenile filly One Hot Wish after she set a world record of :48.87 in a 4 1/2-furlong race. That decision upset some consignors.
"It's appalling," said Kentucky bloodstock agent and pinhooker Peter Bradley. "They don't let us put any of our horses in late. If you're going to have a racehorse sale, you should let eight or 10 of them have a short period before the sale to be put into the sale. But to give one guy that opportunity that nobody else gets, it goes against what this whole sale company should be about."
However, Russell defended the decision.
"It was a unique opportunity, and we decided to take the opportunity," Russell said. "If we have another world record holder we might do it again next year. It was a decision I made, and I'm happy with the decision."
Russell did make one concession to complaining consignors, making One Hot Wish the first horse offered instead of the last, as originally planned. Some sellers were worried that placing the filly last might cause buyers to hold onto their money and wait for One Hot Wish instead of bidding on other horses.
"We did it because the consignors asked us," Russell said. "They thought it would be a better place, and as a consensus, we thought that would be the fair thing to do, to put her at the front, get her sold, and go on."
The auction begins at 1:30 p.m. (EDT) Tuesday at Keeneland's sale pavilion in Lexington.
Here's what some other people had to say about the sale and the fast times over the Polytrack:
Randy Hartley, consignor: "I think it's going to be like the rest of the sales this year. It's going to be good in spots and not so good in others."
John Moynihan, buyer: "The horses that I saw work well in Ocala, they worked well here. So, it was consistent. The good ones in Ocala are also the good ones here."
Kevin McKathan, consignor: "I think this is a real spotty sale every year. It should be the best sale in the country because everybody is here, everyone is racing here, and every trainer is racing here, but for some reason they go to Ocala to buy horses."
Randy Miles, consignor:" I think everybody was very tickled with how the horses came out of the first breeze show, and I'm very happy with the turnout of buyers today (Sunday). From what I hear, there are a lot of nice horses here and a lot of well-bred fillies, so I think the sale will be good."
Kip Elser, Kirkwood Stables, consignor: "What is different in the market than it was two weeks ago? Do you have new players to buy horses? Do you have new people selling horses? Has the economy gone through a drastic change? The show has just moved to another town. But I don't see any reason why we'll have a bad sale."
Niall Brennan, consignor: "I'm cautiously optimistic. I don't think the times have anything to do with this sale. I don't think the Polytrack is going to make or break this sale. People have to understand that it's the individual, the horse. The times are quick for everybody. But the buyers come here and look at the horses. They don't go just on the times. But I don't know if there are enough top horses to make this a good sale. I've got a lot of useful horses, but this weather (cold and wet) hasn't helped. For those kind of horses to sell, you need to have a good buzz and have people out looking at everything so they have at least seen the horses. During the week (after the first under tack show), we didn't have that much action."