Keeneland officials, who said they changed the September yearling sale’s format in an effort to add excitement to the auction, got exactly what they wanted Sept. 12 in Lexington.
During the first of two select sessions, which were moved from daytime to nighttime, a big, powerful-looking A.P. Indy colt sold for $4.2 million, eliciting gasps from the largest crowd to attend the sale in a long time and bringing the highest price at the auction since Meydan City sold for $11.7 million in 2006.
In addition, even though Keeneland reduced the number of horses in its select sessions considerably, the opening night’s gross revenue of $23,965,000 for the 69 horses that sold was down only 3.9% from last year’s total of $24,949,000 for the 107 yearlings that sold.
“The goal when we changed the format was that we would see a difference, and I think that we did tonight,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “The sale pavilion was filled with people who were bidding and clearly enjoying the night. There was electricity in the air; it was nice. Our hope is that the momentum continues into the next sessions.”
The average price of $347,319 was up 49% from last 2009’s figure of $233,168. The median of $250,000 represented a 25% increase from last year’s middle market statistic of $200,000. And the buy-back rate was 25.8%, down significantly from 41.2% in 2009.
“The night thing has gone well; I think it (the change in format) is good,” said Gainesway’s Neil Howard after the first session had passed its midway point. “There are a lot of people around here, and there is a lot of enthusiasm. There has been some talk about finishing late and having to get up early the next day, but we can adjust if we have to. We’ve sold everything we’ve taken up there so far, and we are happy with what we got.”
Benjamin Leon Jr., in the name of his Besilu Stables, purchased the session-topping colt, a handsome bay with a splashy white blaze. Leon didn’t jump into the protracted bidding battle for the strapping yearling until $3.5 million, but once he entered the fray, Leon made his offers with determination.
“Mr. J.J. Pletcher and his son, (multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer) Todd Pletcher, the people I trust, thought he was actually the very best horse in the sale, and we did not want to let him go,” Leon said. “He’s got the depth in the pedigree to become a superstar, and he’s got size. He’s just about perfect. I’m very happy and thrilled that we did it—no regrets, not at all.”
Leon outlasted John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, who stopped at $4.1 million while making his offers from behind the auction stand near where the horses enter the sale ring, and Kaleem Shah, who was accompanied by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.
“It is what it is,” said Leon of the colt’s expensive price. “If you want to have quality, you have to pay for it; you get what you pay for. If there were other people only $100,000 under me, they must have also thought that the horse was worth that much and if $100,000 was going to make a difference (in whether I bought the colt or not), I didn’t have to think about it, not for $100,000.”
The chairman and founder of Leon Medical Centers in South Florida and a prominent breeder of Paso Fino show horses, Leon was sitting in the sale pavilion between his wife, Silvia, and J.J. Pletcher. It was the first time Leon had attended a Thoroughbred auction, and “it was nice to make it count,” he said with a big smile.
Earlier this year, Leon bought the $1.2-million sale topper—an A.P. Indy—Maryfield colt—at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling auction while listening to the action on a telephone as Todd Pletcher made the offers.
The $4.2-million A.P. Indy colt is the first foal out of grade I winner Balance, who is a half sister to the undefeated two-time champion older female Zenyatta.
“We couldn’t find anything wrong with him is what we liked about him,” J.J. Pletcher said. “He had it all, pedigree plus conformation. We couldn’t fault anything.”
A 7-year-old daughter of Thunder Gulch , Balance captured the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) and Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) in 2006, along with the 2007 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I), while carrying the colors of John and Jerry Amerman’s Amerman Racing. The Amermans bought Balance for $260,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September sale, and Jerry Amerman bred her A.P. Indy colt, which was consigned to the 2010 edition of the September auction by Mill Ridge Sales.
“That was terrific,” said John Amerman, a former chairman and CEO of Mattel. “It would have been nice either way, whether we sold him or not. If we had kept him, we would have been so proud. He’s a real man. We had never sold a yearling (at public auction) before, but we knew he was spectacular, so we decided to try it (entering him in the September sale) and see what happened. He seemed like he was special from day one. We’ve got to thank Mill Ridge and Headley Bell for everything that they’ve done.”
According to Jerry Amerman, the experience of selling the colt, even though he brought a huge price, “was bittersweet, real bittersweet. But he’s going to a good trainer, and we want to see him really do well.”
The $4.2-million final bid exceeded the expectations of Mill Ridge’s Bell, who was impressed by the yearling’s presence and athleticism.
“I actually valued him from $750,000 to $2.5 million,” Bell said. “He was a really super mover. He was the entire package.”
Leon's Besilu was the opening night’s biggest spender, paying $4,650,000 million for two yearlings. In addition to the session-topping colt, he purchased a $450,000 Pulpit – Chimichurri filly.
Sheikh Hamdan of Dubai, attending the September auction for the first time in several years, ranked second, spending $2,885,000 for six head in the name of his Shadwell Estate Company. Shah paid $1,270,000 for two head, including the session’s second-highest-priced yearling, a $950,000 Giant's Causeway —Spunoutacontrol colt. B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm spent $1,075,000 for two horses.
The Keeneland September sale runs through Sept. 26, with a day off from selling Sept. 18.