The select selling season for 2-year-olds in training hits the homestretch and heads for the wire Tuesday at Keeneland,which will conduct the year's fifth and final major juvenile auction. The market, so far, has been on a record-setting run, and Keeneland officials are hoping the positive trend will continue in Central Kentucky.
"I think our catalogue is excellent," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "Pedigree-wise and physical-wise, it's right up there with any of the best 2-year-olds sales that we have put on. It might have a little more strength in the number of top-class fillies compared to previous years."
Conditions for the auction's first under tack show on April 10 were ideal, with sunny skies and cool temperatures that warmed up as the day progressed. The quarter mile times were especially fast, with two juveniles posting clockings on the main track that were under :21. Six horses on the main track and three on grass worked an eighth of a mile in :10 1/5.
"The horses performed very well," Russell said. "No matter what 2-year-old sale you're at, the first under tack show is very important because it's the one that Keeneland or any other sale company is able to distribute the DVDs and VHS tapes from to its client base to stimulate interest. As one trainer said to me in California, 'The catalogue is very interesting, but the first preview tape is more important.' "
Last year, Keeneland's juvenile sale struggled. Of the five major select juvenile auctions in California, Florida, and Kentucky, Keeneland's was the only one that suffered setbacks in three important statistical categories: gross revenue, average price, and median price. Compared to 2004, when all three figures set sale records, the gross and average plummeted 22.6% and 25.5%, respectively, while the median slipped 3.7%.
After the auction, Russell vowed that Keeneland would try harder to recruit more buyers in 2006, and the sale company has delivered on its promise.
"We made sure t hat people were aware this year early in advance of our sale," Russell said. "In mid-February, we sent out a promotional piece to our client base to get people's attention. It was kind of like a Rubik's cube, and it was a fun piece. We wanted something that wasn't just a flat piece of paper that would be sitting on somebody's desk and nobody would look at. The feedback we got was very positive. It might not work, but we knew they all saw it."
In addition, instead of using TVG to prepare a promotional television program on the sale as it had in the past, Keeneland turned to its director of broadcast services, G.D. Hieronymus, and hired outside help in the form of the husband-and-wife media team of Jeff and Stephanie Lifson. The resulting sale preview program featured horses selected by consignors and information on the consignors' past accomplishments. It aired on both TVG and HRTV. DVDs also were mailed to 250 to 300 prospective buyers, according to Russell.
In yet another change, Russell journeyed to Japan for the first time specifically to promote the Keeneland juvenile auction and hand out its catalogues. Other Keeneland staff members had taken the trip in the past to distribute catalogues. Joined by Keeneland's Australasian representative Vin Cox, Russell visited training centers as well as farms on the island of Hokkaido during late March.
"We also did our normal direct marketing to trainers in Florida, Arkansas, and California," Russell said.
The sale 's second and final under tack show is scheduled for Monday, beginning at 10:30 a.m. (EDT). The auction begins Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.