Fueled by unfettered demand for offspring of leading sires Tapit and War Front and a competitive international buying base, the Keeneland September yearling sale got a fast start out of the gate during a Sept. 11 session that surpassed all expectations.
With an electrically charged atmosphere in the crowded pavilion, the session lived up to the expectations of Keeneland officials when they made the strategic decision this spring to launch the marathon sale with a Book 1 session of some of the best-bred and -conformed foals of 2016 that they could muster.
Keeneland reported 95 horses sold for gross receipts of $54,175,000. With the new format, that represented an increase of 56.9% over the first-day figure of $34,531,000 paid for 108 head a year ago. The average price of $570,263 represented a gain of 78.4% over the $319,731 for the Day 1 2016 session and the median rose 86.9% to $500,000 from $267,500.
From 167 horses cataloged, 145 went through the ring, with the 50 bought back representing an RNA rate of 34.5%, compared with 35.7% during last year's first day.
There were eight yearlings that brought prices in excess of seven figures Monday, compared with nine during the entirety of the three-day Book 1 of 2016.
By segmenting the yearlings perceived to be the best in one session, Keeneland wanted to generate momentum that would set the stage for the rest of the sale, which continues through Sept. 23, with the exception of a Sept. 15 dark day.
"By far it exceeded our expectations," said Bob Elliston, Keeneland's vice president of racing and sales. "We had a couple of goals for this new format. First and foremost was to create momentum from the beginning we hoped to take through the entire sale.
"Second was to have as many good horses as you can before this international buying group before the (Sept. 15) break. Mission accomplished on number one. The average tonight was $570,263. The average for the entire first book last year was $349,000; we're talking about a 63% gain on the average and a 66% gain on the median over last year's Book 1."
Elliston said the knockout Book 1 was only the beginning of a week in which buyers will be presented with plenty of good yearlings from which to choose.
"The fireworks are not over," he said. "It was hard getting a horse bought here tonight and there were people who went home without getting orders filled."
Keeneland's decision to launch the sale with the one-day Book 1 and follow with a three-day Book 2 resonated with buyers and sellers involved in Monday's action.
"This has been a big success," said Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales Agency. "They were able to get the right physicals into this component of the sale and it paid off. It's been just what they were trying to accomplish. Tomorrow's a new day but starting it off like this was a good move."
"I think it is a good way to get the sale started and get buyers engaged in bidding before Book 2 starts with a lot of numbers," said Brian Graves of consignor Gainesway. "It might have people really ready to bid."
Michael Wallace, of China Horse Club International, agreed that the powerful opening session should set a positive mood for market going forward.
"If buzz is what they're after, I think they got it," Wallace said of Keeneland. "The market is really strong. There are plenty of horses that lit up the board."
The $2.7 million session-topper was a Tapit filly who is full sister to grade 1 winner Cupid bought by M.V. Magnier of Coolmore. Consigned as Hip 69 by VanMeter-Gentry Sales, the filly is out of the grade 2-placed Beau Genius mare Pretty 'n Smart, who also produced graded stakes winners Heart Ashley and Ashley's Kitty.
Magnier purchased Cupid for $900,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale. Trained by Bob Baffert for Coolmore partners Michael Tabor, Susan Magnier, and Derrick Smith, Cupid captured the Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes (G1) in May.
"We talked to (trainer) Bob Baffert over the last couple of weeks, and he says there's a lot to come for Cupid over the next couple months, and we could have a fun winter with him," Magnier said. "(The Tapit filly) is a very well-bred filly, she's very good-looking, and let's hope she's anything as good as he was."
The filly was bred by Turner Breeders, which is managed by Olin Gentry, who partners with Tom VanMeter in the agency that sold the session-topper.
Gentry said the yearling filly is "more attractive and a little more forward than Cupid was at the same time."
VanMeter Sales also sold Dream Team, a Tapit colt out of the mare, to Magnier for $1 million at the 2013 Keeneland September yearling sale.
The day's second-highest price of $2.6 million was paid by Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm for a Tapit colt out of the Medaglia d'Oro mare Miss Besilu.
The colt consigned as Hip 49 by Taylor Made Sales Agency was bred in Kentucky by Three Chimneys Farm and Besilu Stables, which bought Miss Besilu for $2.6 million at the 2011 Keeneland November breeding stock sale. A daughter of the stakes-winning mare Quiet Dance, Miss Besilu is a half sister to Horse of the Year Saint Liam and to three additional stakes winners, including Quiet Giant—a grade 2 winner who is achieving fame as the dam of multiple grade 1 winner Gun Runner.
"Obviously I love Tapits and I buy them, breed them, and sell them," Pope said. "This colt is a very strong horse, there is a little bit more to him than some of the Tapits. He's got good bone and a little bit more substance than some of them. Tapits can be a little fragile in the brain sometimes but he's very good-minded."
Pope was not alone in her love affair with Tapit. While there was broad-based strength to the market, it was obvious that the Tapit and War Front yearlings were most coveted.
Gainesway's Tapit saw 11 of his 19 offered sold for a total $12,825,000, an average price of $1,165,909. War Front, who stands at Claiborne Farm, had 12 of 22 sell for a total $9,550,000, an average of $795,833.
"It was like the battle of the heavyweights on the stallion side," Elliston said. "That was extraordinary."
The Keeneland sale continues with the start of Book 2 at 11 a.m. ET Sept. 12.
Alicia Hughes contributed to this story