Buyers Liking What They See at Keeneland, But Some Big Spenders Are Elsewhere

The horses have worked and the reviews are in for Tuesday's Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training in Lexington. The good news is that some of the major buyers of juveniles have been impressed. The bad news is that several of the buyers with the most spending power won't be attending the sale personally, but will rely on their representatives.

"There seems to be more to choose from than there was last year," said New Jersey bloodstock agent Buzz Chace. "There are some nice horses here, and, I think, you're really going to have to pay for them."

Kentucky bloodstock agent John Moynihan, whose clients include wine mogul Jess Jackson, also has liked what he has seen.

"There are certainly enough nice horses here to try to buy," he said.

But Jackson won't be at Keeneland. He's in Australia, but not on a horse shopping venture. Irish agent Demi O'Byrne and Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock manager, John Ferguson, also are Down Under. They are reported to be attending the Easter yearling auction.

The lack of big players was considered a problem last year, when the Keeneland April sale suffered declines in gross revenue, average price, and median price. The names of O'Byrne, Ferguson, and Robert and Beverly Lewis, who had spent millions of dollars at earlier juvenile auctions, didn't appear on any sale tickets even though their representatives were on hand.

While there will be a shortage of high rollers attending the April auction personally again this year, Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, remained optimistic. The sale's first under tack show produced fast works, and there are some fancy pedigrees in the catalogue.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "We have an international buying base here, and people seem to like the horses. The traffic has been good through the barns. We'll have to see what happens and hope they all don't alight on the same horse."

The number of horses to choose from will be limited. There are 223 listed in the catalogue, but as of Monday, 62 (27.8%) had been scratched.

Following are what some other people had to say prior to the auction, which starts Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. (EDT):

Becky Thomas, Sequel Bloodstock: "The OBS (Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.) March sale was absolutely huge, but for the mediocre horse, there is still no buyer. There are a lot of horses that are always going to fall through the cracks at a 2-year-old sale, no matter what happens. I don't' see any $16-million horse here, but I do see $1-million to $2-million horses."

Niall Brennan: "It was a bad sale last year, but I love Keeneland. I'll bring horses here next year for the new track (Polytrack). But it's a little tough when you bring horses you've got just as much confidence in as you did for your Miami horses, but for some reason -- I'm not sure what it is -- the buying public seems to have a different opinion. They seem to think we bring all our good horses to Miami. That's their attitude. And that's not the case. There have been very good horses that have come out of this sale. But I think you have to be concerned about the top end. The buyers will be picky like they are at all the other sales, I'm sure. The bigger buyers --Demi O'Byrne and John Ferguson -- aren't here this year, and that's something Keeneland needs to address."

Mike Mulligan, Leprechaun Racing: "I think the top 15 or 20 horses are going to be great. There is a limited number of horses, and there are a lot of people who need middle market horses, so I think that kind of bodes well for the middle market to be better. We've had a lot of traffic for that kind of horse. The sale should be fine. If your horse is sound and has a respectable work, you're going to be all right. It seems like there have been some people this year who have kind of gotten outrun in the middle and who are waitin to buy."

Jerry Bailey, Jerry Bailey Sales Agency: "Last year, it was pretty scary. I don't know why it was the way it was. I don't think anyone has come up with any kind of logic for it. I know Keeneland hasn't. When people think about coming to buy a racehorse, they think about Keeneland, and it usually carries right through the 2-year-olds."

Eddie Woods, Florida pinhooker: "I think the sale will be very, very spotty. I had a good sale here last year, for whatever reason, and I kind of think I deserve to have a good one this year because I've got good stock. But I just don't know if the traffic is here to support it. We've seen some money and everything, but we have not seen enough traffic."

Randy Miles, pinhooker: "I'm expecting my horses to do very well. We bring our first-string horses into this sale, and I think a lot of other people have already taken their best horses to other sales. I think you get the buyers here, but I don't think you get the horses here the buyers are looking for. This is a wonderful place to sell horses; I rave about it every day. It's a great place to sell, but I wish it could be a better sale.

"I've heard there are quite a few people from California coming here. I've already seen some overseas buyers. I've also heard that some of the Kentucky bloodstock agents have quite a few orders to fill for nice horses. Considering that, and the small quantity of horses that is here, I think it is going to be a good sale. I am going out on a limb and saying the average will be up."

Maurice W. Miller III, Kentucky-based pinhooker: "I'm hoping last year was just an aberration. Horses graduating from this sale stack up very, very well, and it should be a good sale."

Kip Elser, Kirkwood Stables: "I don't think it will be any different from what we've been seeing this year. Is there any reason for this sale to be any different from any other sale that we've been going to all year? That's my question. In this year's market, I haven't seen any difference in buyer activity or the way the horses go. I don't see anything that changes the market that has been has been just about the same since we started in February."

Terry Oliver, O & H Bloodstock: "I have mixed feelings. Last year, I thought this sale was a little light. It's turned a little bit into a filly sale. Keeneland is in one of the biggest Thoroughbred breeding centers in the world, and broodmare prospects are valuable. Buyers really focus down in Miami, they know the Derby-type horse is there, and it's kind of gotten a little spotty here. We really thought we were bringing nice horses last year, we thought they fit in the same caliber as our Miami horses, and, financially, it didn't equate.

"It's late in the year; people have started focusing in different directions; and with all the open sales coming up, some of the mentality is that it's time to buy racehorses, so the select market may not be as popular right now. I think we had a great first work show, and there are some quality individuals here. I'm curious, like everybody else, where the market is going to be."