Buyers and Consignors: Bring Back Keeneland July Sale

One of the Thoroughbred industry's biggest summer traditions, the Keeneland July select auction, will be missing when the yearling selling season kicks off in Kentucky later this month. Citing the effects of mare reproductive loss syndrome, Keeneland officials announced the cancellation of the sale this past January. In recent interviews, President Nick Nicholson and Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell said they wouldn't have much to discuss about the auction's future until they talk to buyers and consignors later this year. However, many horsemen are eager to express their opinions now; they want it to return. Following are some of their thoughts:

Wayne Sweezey, co-managing partner of Darby Dan Farm: "I definitely would like to see the July sale come back. It has an atmosphere that lends itself to selling an expensive horse with the right size and maturity, and I think there is a place for it. I don't know that the format (for selection) needs to be changed. It still needs to be a select sale with high-end horses. Let's bring it back and sell 150 head. Split them over two different sessions, sell them at night, and make it a festive atmosphere."

Reiley McDonald, Eaton Sales: "I have always thought that Keeneland July is a great market for a certain type of horse, and that is a big, strong, well-developed, mature,yearling with a top pedigree. A horse that fulfills those qualifications sells better there than anywhere. And for that reason, I would like to see it (the sale) come back next year or the year after.

"I think it would be a dynamic and interesting thing to somehow attach a three-day twilight racing meet to it with some sales stakes and upper-end $100,000 maiden races. It would be well-attended and give people coming to the sale some real excitement, seeing their horses win at night and buying some horses, perhaps, during the day. There are obvious logistical problems to work out to make it work, but I think it could be a win-win situation for the horsemen, the breeders, and Keeneland.

"I also think they (Keeneland) should put the biggest and best physical athletes they can find in the sale, period. There have to be pedigree standards, sure, but they don't have to be what they've been in the past. Fifteen years ago, in my mind, pedigrees accounted for 60% to 75% of what went into the selection decision at Keeneland. But the trend among buyers has been toward buying the physical horse. Clearly, the physical athlete is the most important attribute buyers are looking for when they purchase horses, and that's where we need to put the emphasis when we select horses for summer sales, particularly at Keeneland in July. We need to go find the athletes."

Mark Taylor, Taylor Made Sales Agency: "I would like to see the (Keeneland) July sale come back. We had some phenomenal sales there the last five years. I might change my mind if we go through this sale cycle and the September sale really gets off with a big bang with more seven-figure horses. But right now, I still have an attachment to July because I think it is a good place to market those early developing horses. I love having those night sessions when a 'who's who' of the horse world is rubbing shoulders with everybody else. Great things can happen when you get that electricity going, and I think that's hard to duplicate in a sale the magnitude of September.

"People have talked about have a race meeting (at Keeneland in July), and I know that's a huge political hurdle to get all the ducks in a row to make it happen. But I think it would be a huge drawing card, giving the sale a totally unique venue. You could leave the (sale's) format the same. But if that doesn't happen, I think the emphasis has to be put on conformation in selecting the yearlings. You want to have as much pedigree as you can, but you want to have really good-looking horses that will have people just foaming at the mouth wanting to buy them. While you're going to have to hedge a little bit on pedigree, I think the market will respond."

John Moynihan, Kentucky bloodstock agent: "I've got a soft spot in my heart for the July sale. I think it's a good way to start the market off. But at the same time, I only want it to continue it if it can be showcased in a manner that shows the sale in a positive light that doesn't take away from any of the past July sales that were successful. You don't have it just because of tradition if you don't have the horses to go in it. Maybe it needs to come to that (emphasizing the physical qualities over the pedigree) because so many of the major proven stallions are old now. You also need to have a high enough number of horses to get the buyers to come -- maybe 150 to 200. If there are less, people will think the good ones will be very, very expensive and there won't be a lot choose from."

Mike Ryan, Kentucky bloodstock agent: "I very much want the July sale to come back. I'm a big supporter of the sale because it's the standard of the industry. While I don't think we are ever going to have a July sale like we did in the '80s, with all the sire power and mare strength, I don't see any reason why we can't have a good one. There won't be as many flashy pedigrees, but there is every reason to believe that Keeneland can still pull together a group of select, quality yearlings that are forward physically in their development."