Market Stability Reigns As Keeneland September Sale Ends

The Keeneland September Yearling Sale, the world’s premier Thoroughbred auction, closed Sunday with results nearly equal to 2013, continuing a healthy trend toward market stability and confidence in the Thoroughbred industry, according to Keeneland sales officials.

Gross receipts for the 13-day sale, held September 8-21, totaled $279,960,500, nearly mirroring the $280,491,300 recorded during last year’s 12-day sale.

This year 2,819 yearlings were sold versus 2,744 in 2013.

Cumulatively, the average price of $99,312 was down 2.8 percent from $102,220 last year.

The median, the critical indicator of a healthy market, remained the same as last year at $50,000.

“The success of this sale flows from the fact that we continue to operate in a fair, realistic market,” Keeneland Vice President of Sales Walt Robertson said. “We had a significant improvement in results the last two years. Now we’re seeing consistency and stability in the market, which fuels optimism, heightens buyer confidence and spurs competition.”  

Trade in the upper middle market, defined as horses sold for $400,000 or more, proved exceptionally strong despite 113 fewer horses cataloged in the premier Book 1.

Thirteen yearlings sold for $1 million or more, including two for the sale-topping price of $2.2 million each, compared to 18 last year.

During Book 1 and Book 2, 121 yearlings brought $400,000 or more each versus 105 sold in that price range in 2013.

Further indication of the sale’s strong performance lies in the fact that during the first weekend and week 2 of the sale, the highest-priced yearling of each session exceeded the top price for the corresponding session in 2013.

In each of those sessions, a yearling sold for $100,000 or more.

“There was all-out competition for horses from start to finish, and buyers were more determined to go home with horses,” Keeneland Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell said. “There was no change in the level of enthusiasm or participation from buyers through the very last day of the sale. They swept up everything, and consignors told us the level of interest exceeded their expectations.”

Alex Rankin of Upson Downs Farm, which sold 19 yearlings for $1,486,000, including a Scat Daddy filly for $350,000, agreed.

“The market is strong in the middle,” he said. “Our sale has been solid, and we’ve sold in pretty much every book.”

The depth and diversity of Keeneland’s buying bench were evident throughout the sale, which featured participation by the world’s major foreign and domestic buyers.

In addition to the U.S., Europe and Dubai, buyers from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Japan, Korea, Russia, and Central and South America were active at the sale.

The auction’s top 10 leading buyers were fairly equally divided between U.S. and international interests, and included such established buyers as John Ferguson, Gary and Mary West, Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier, Shadwell Estate Company Ltd., Jack Wolfe’s Starlight Stable, Juddmonte Farms and Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm.

“Keeneland promotes the Thoroughbred industry 52 weeks a year to buyers in nearly every state and all four corners of the world,” Russell said. “It’s a global strategy we’ve employed for many years to build and sustain relationships with horsemen. It’s very gratifying to see those efforts translate into huge crowds.”

John Ferguson, bloodstock adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai, was the sale’s leading buyer, acquiring 22 yearlings for $7.88 million.

The second-leading buyer was Ben Glass, agent for leading U.S. owners Gary and Mary West, who purchased 29 horses for $7,805,000.

Leading North American and international trainers also were prominent, buying yearlings to fill client orders.

Among the most active was Mark Casse, who bought eight horses over the course of the sale for $3,545,000.

“We tell friends who don’t understand the horse business that this is our draft,” he said. “It’s a very intense 10 days or two weeks, but what you do in these 10 days or two weeks will have a bearing on how well you do for the next two to three to four years.”

Casse noted that the September Sale is an important source of runners. He helped select yearlings for Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell’s Conquest Stables, which purchased 12 yearlings for $3.78 million.

This year, Conquest and Casse are represented by two 2013 September Sale graduates pointing toward the 2014 Breeders’ Cup World Championships: Natalma (G2) winner Conquest Harlanate and Summer (G2) winner Conquest Typhoon.

This year, colts by two of the world’s most successful stallions each brought the sale-topping price of $2.2 million.

Both were sold during the fourth and final session of Book 1.

The first was a son of War Front who is a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Contested, consigned by Claiborne Farm and purchased by M.V. Magnier.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Estate Company Ltd. bought the second top-priced yearling, a colt by Tapit who is a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) winner New Year’s Day. He was consigned by Clearsky Farms, agent.

For the third consecutive year, Tapit, who stands at Gainesway in Lexington, was the sale’s leading sire by gross, represented by 36 yearlings that grossed $21,725,000.

The average price for his yearlings was $603,472, the highest average for a sire at the September Sale since 2007, when 23 yearlings by A.P. Indy sold for an average of $858,043.

Moyglare Stud Farm paid $1.5 million for the sale’s top-priced filly, a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro who is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Nereid and stakes winner Sea Queen. She was consigned by Royal Oak Farm.

Consignors of several top-priced yearlings are operations now led by second, third and even fourth generations of families in the Thoroughbred industry, such as Walker Hancock of Claiborne Farm, Bernard and Eamonn Cleary of Clearsky Farms, and Braxton and Damien Lynch of Royal Oak.

Other young horsemen active at the sale included Hancock’s cousin Arthur Hancock IV of Stone Farm, which sold two seven-figure yearlings, and Peter Berglar, who spent $1.1 million for a Tiznow filly for his family’s Stonereath Farm.

“There are a lot of us around,” Walker Hancock said. “It’s exciting. It’s good to see some fresh faces and get to know them because that’s who I’ll be working with for many years.”

Family ties also extended to the sale’s leading consignor, Lane’s End, agent, which sold 211 yearlings for $28,581,700.  Lane’s End was founded by prominent horseman William S. Farish, who operates the farm with his son, Bill.

Proceeds from the sales fund purse money for Keeneland’s elite race meets. The upcoming Fall Meet will attract top owners, trainers and jockeys and offer average daily purses of nearly $600,000, among the richest in the world. 

“World-class sales create a world-class racing program at Keeneland,” Russell said. “We thank our consignors, who did a superb job of bringing their best horses to Keeneland. We look forward to many of these horses returning to race at Keeneland.” 

Keeneland enhanced customer service for its sales clients during the September Sale, expanding its Hospitality Team, placing food and coffee trucks in the stable area, and providing chauffeured golf carts to assist guests with moving around the sales grounds.

Keeneland also introduced two unique offerings to promote the September Sale to the local community and to showcase Central Kentucky to clients from around the world.

Keeneland and Country Boy Brewing collaborated on Keeneland Sale Ale, a small-batch beer produced by the local brewery which was sold throughout Central Kentucky.

On September 10, Keeneland and VisitLEX’s Beyond Grits presented the Jefferson Street Soiree, which drew large crowds of locals and out-of-town guests to celebrate one of Lexington’s culinary and cocktail hot spots.

During Sunday’s final session, Keeneland sold 178 horses for $1,913,300, for an average of $10,749 and a median of $6,000.

There was no comparable session for last year’s 12-day sale.

Lisa Orth paid the day’s top price of $120,000 for Fort Hope, a colt by Fort Prado out of the Vindication mare Zindi. The colt was consigned by MJK Bloodstock, agent.

Keeneland’s next sale will be the November Breeding Stock Sale, to be held November 4-14, 2014. 

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