As each well-built yearling entered the ring, Keeneland vice president of racing and sales Bob Elliston couldn’t help but think the company is going to be writing some checks in the near future back to the day’s sellers, and that scenario would be just fine with him.
This year Keeneland expanded its Seller Bonus program to reward all eligible graded and group stakes winners sold at any time during the sale and four Books in, as the Keeneland September yearling sale rolled through a solid eighth session Sept. 19, Elliston was seeing breeders deliver.
“You have some really racy looking foals here in Book 4,” Elliston said. “We’re going to pay out a good amount of that bonus money and I’m OK with that.”
Two yearlings, a filly by Warrior's Reward and a colt by Stay Thirsty , each sold for $325,000 to headline Tuesday's session as Keeneland sold 285 yearlings for gross sales of $15,571,000, an average of $54,635, and a median of $40,000.
“European pinhookers in particular were very active today; it was a good mix of domestic and foreign participation,” said Keeneland director of sales operations Geoffrey Russell.
To date, 1,740 yearlings have been sold for a total of $288,869,000, up 16% from last year. Cumulative average has improved 9.6% to $166,017 and overall median has spiked 11% to $100,000.
Kitty Taylor’s Warrendale Sales sold two of the day’s three highest-priced yearlings and ranked as the session’s leading consignor, selling 17 yearlings for $1,568,000 (at an average of $92,235). Hal Hatch II was the day’s leading buyer, purchasing seven horses for $525,000.
Taylor said buyers have maintained their enthusiasm for the sale.
“It looks good across the board for me. It’s been a good sale and there continues to be a lot of activity in the back,” Taylor said. “There are a lot of people looking at horses. We were busy this morning at the barn. We hope it keeps on to Book 5.”
Warrendale Sales enjoyed a big day Tuesday, along with breeders Hargus and Sandra Sexton and Silver Fern Farm. Bidding for Live Oak Plantation, trainer Mark Casse went to $325,000 to land the session's co-highest price Warrior's Reward filly (Hip 2702). Taylor said as potential buyers visited the Warrendale Sales consignment at Keeneland, the filly out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Appeal won them over.
"She's just a beautiful physical. She's a Warrior's Reward and a full (sister) to a stakes horse, and the mare has produced good stakes horses, but nothing graded," Taylor said. "But when the people saw her, they were just like, 'wow.'
"I'd say, 'You have to look at the Warrior’s Reward filly. They'd say, 'Maybe not.' But I'd say, 'You really have to see her,' and they loved her. It's great for the stallion and great for her."
Warrendale Sales consigned the session's top-priced filly for her breeders, the Sextons and Steven and Brandi Nicholson's Silver Fern Farm. The Nicholsons are the breeders of 2016 champion 2-year-old male Classic Empire. The group also teamed on the session's third-highest price and second-highest filly, a daughter of Bodemeister—Five Mach Speed, by E Dubai (Hip 2442) who sold for $260,000 to Glen Hill Farm. Five Mach Speed is a full sister to multiple grade 3 winner Desert Code, who won the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint before it was graded.
"The Sextons helped me get in business. He gave me my start years ago when I left Vinery and they've always supported me for all these years with all of their horses," Taylor said. "They raise wonderful horses."
The day's other highest-priced yearling was purchased by Bob Hess Jr. and Bob Hess Sr. They think they have a racehorse on their hands after going to $325,000 for the Stay Thirsty colt.
Bob Hess Jr., who signed the ticket for the son of the classic-placed 2011 Travers Stakes (G1) winner, said the plan is to take the colt back to California.
"As you saw in the ring, he's a beautiful horse. My dad and I thought we have to make it happen, so we did at all costs," Hess said. "Hopefully we'll see bigger and better from him in California."
Consigned by Betz Thoroughbreds, the colt (Hip 2779) was bred in Kentucky by D.J. Stable. He is out of the winning Candy Ride mare Candy Trophy, who has produced one other registered foal. The colt's second dam, Ministerette, by Deputy Minister, is a half sister to grade 3 winner Chocolate Candy, by Candy Ride.
"We tend to put the physical first and (look for a) pedigree that suits our needs and isn't limiting," Hess Jr. said. "The sale's been tough, really tough. There's a lot of demand."
Bob Hess Sr. said they've purchased horses from Betz before and built up trust in the consignor.
"His word is gold," Hess Jr. added.
A number of consignors and Keeneland officials have noted that the new format, which saw a select group of yearlings offered in a single Book 1 session, appears to have helped continue momentum through the sale.
“We said from the beginning that it was hard to get a horse bought at that session so a lot of those folks had orders to fill and they had to keep shopping,” Elliston said. “It carried through Book 2, it carried through 3, and now it’s carried through 4. Hey, we have a couple more books, let’s start with 5 tomorrow.”
The September Sale continues through Saturday, Sept. 23 with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m. ET. The entire sale is streamed live at Keeneland.com.