The Keeneland September auction completed its first four days—books one and two of the sale's catalog—with more seven-figure horses than in 2011's entire auction. A $1.1 million Empire Maker colt, which was offered Sept. 13 in Lexington, increased the total to seven, up from six last year.
The cumulative average price was up 5.2% from the amount at the same point in the auction in 2011 and the cumulative median price was the same.
"I would say it's a stable market," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "A successful industry needs to have a strong foundation, and I think this year we are building off last year to where it's a good, solid stable market."
The number of horses that were sold during the first four sessions declined 13% while the gross revenue fell 8.5%. The buy-back rate was 28.6%, following a book one (select) session and three book two sessions, compared to 27% in 2011 for two book one sessions and three book two sessions.
"The market is very realistic; it's not out of line at all," said Bruce Hill, general manager of Charlotte Weber's Live Oak Stud in Florida. "We had to go a little further than we wanted to on a couple of horses and we got a few of them for less than we were prepared to go. Two or three brought exactly what we thought, so everything OK. There are no real surprises here."
The cumulative results included a gross of $132,853,000 for the 655 yearlings that were sold. The average was $202,829 and the median was $150,000.
"It started right and ended right," said Keeneland's vice president of sales, Walt Robertson, of the fourth session. The auction will take a one-day break from selling Sept. 14.
The Sept. 13 statistics included a gross of $35,750,000 for the 198 horses that were sold. The average was $180,556 and the median was $140,000. Compared to the corresponding session last year, the number sold declined 5.3% while the gross grew 5%. The average and median advanced 10.9% and 7.7%, respectively. It was the second day in a row that the gross, average, and median all experienced upswings.
The buy-back rate of 25% was down from 25.9% in 2011.
The $1.1 million Empire Maker colt is a member of the last American crop of his sire, now standing in Japan. Shigeyuki Okada of Big Red Farm in the Land of the Rising Sun purchased the striking bay while standing in the bidding area behind the auction ring in Keeneland's sale pavilion.
Okada made big news in this country earlier this year when his nursery acquired Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner I'll Have Another as a stallion prospect following the colt's injury prior to the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and subsequent retirement from racing.
Okada reported that I'll Have Another is in "very, very good condition" at Big Red Farm in Japan. "He has the credentials for a stallion," Okada added. "I expect very much of him. I have confidence."
Discussing his seven-figure yearling purchase at Keeneland, Okada said: "His muscle is very, very good and (also his) conformation, of course. And he's very smart. He has nice legs and everything."
The fourth session topper is a Kentucky-bred half brother to Ravi's Song (by Unbridled's Song), who captured the 2011 New Orleans Ladies Stakes at the Fair Grounds and two other added-money events. Their dam, Lu Ravi (by A.P. Indy), finished first eight times in stakes, including the 2000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) and 1998 Cotillion Handicap. Lu Ravi is a half sister to the winner Half Queen (by Deputy Minister), who is the dam of 2003 champion 3-year-old filly, Halfbridled (by Unbridled).
Nagako Fujita of Japan bred the Empire Maker colt. He was foaled and raised at Kentucky-based Wood's Edge Farm, which consigned him to the auction.
"He was always an outstanding horse," said Woods Edge's Peter O'Callaghan. "She (Lu Ravi) is a lovely mare and we've had a great run with her the last couple of years, a couple lovely foals out of her. But he's much the best that she's ever had. He's an exceptional animal in anyone's eyes. Every breeder wants to strive to produce a horse like him.
"I've never sold a seven-figure horse," O'Callaghan added, "and it's nice to do it for once. I'm not sure I'll ever do it again."
Yoshio Fujita raced Lu Ravi, who was bred by Wayne G. Lyster III of Ashview Farm in Kentucky.
"It's Wayne Lyster's family, so a lot of credit goes to him," O'Callaghan said. "We're just bearing the fruit of a lot of his work."
The value of that fruit exceeded O'Callaghan's expectations.
"Our reserve was 200 grand on the colt and we knew he would make a lot more than that," he said. "But whenever you reach those kinds of heights, you're surprised.
"(It shows you) there is a bit of light at the end of the tunnel," continued O'Callaghan, who expressed concern about buyers' increasingly high veterinary standards for yearlings. "It's been a hard couple of days; it's been tough going. But it's great to have horses like him. It's all about horses like him; they make it look easy."
O'Callaghan said he was "pretty sure" that WinStar Farm's president, CEO, and racing manager Elliott Walden was the immediate underbidder on the expensive yearling.
A Smart Strike colt was the second-highest-priced horse sold, bringing $900,000 from Barbara Banke's Stonestreet Stables. The chestnut yearling is a half brother to stakes winner Supreme (by Empire Maker). Their dam, the winning Maria's Mon mare Mon Belle, is a full sister to 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos .
Gerry Dilger's Dromoland Farm, agent, consigned the colt. Peter E. Blum Thoroughbreds bred him in Kentucky.
"He is a really pretty horse; it was more than I wanted to give," said John Moynihan, who is an adviser to Stonestreet. "But we've got an affinity for the stallion; we've had a lot of luck with him. (Champion) My Miss Aurelia is gorgeous; Dominus is gorgeous; and Curlin , of course, was (two-time Horse of the Year) Curlin. When people like Barbara have a lot of luck with a certain sire line, they tend to go back to the well a little bit. We just went really deep in this well. Barbara was spurring me on."
The sale runs through Sept. 21.