Keeneland rolled out a new format for its annual September Yearling Sale, and while it's too early to say whether or not it will have staying power in the years ahead, the results from day one were, for the most part, encouraging for breeders bringing their products to the year's biggest Thoroughbred auction of racing prospects.
After several years of tinkering with a select sale that included evening sessions and a one-day select Book 1 and three-day Book 2 in 2012, Keeneland officials decided to combine what previously had been Book 1 and Book 2 horses into one select group in 2013. Unlike previous years when certain consignors sold on certain days, the new format had all Book 1 yearlings offered alphabetically by the name of the dam, with “F” selected randomly to kick off the action (Hip 1 was a colt out of Fairy Princess and the final Hip of Book 1, No. 875, is out of Eyes on Eddy, signifying one circuit through the alphabet).
Logistics seem to be the drawback to the new format, with some buyers saying it was far more difficult to go through consignments in both Keeneland's lower barn area and the section “on the hill” to the north of the racetrack. Consignors with larger offerings are active on all four days of Book 1, where in the past they would have a day off during the first four sessions.
Day-to-day results comparisons with 2012 are not apples-to-apples, either, making it difficult to judge how well the first day's selling went.
Here's how I am stacking up this year's daily Book 1 session vs. 2012.
Last year, there were 1,047 catalogued in the first two books. Of that number, 918 went through the ring with 655 selling for $132,853,000. That Book 1/Book 2 average was $202,829, and the median was $150,000. Yearlings that failed to exceed their reserve price accounted for 28.6% through the ring.
This year's day one numbers stack up very favorably compared to that, with the exception of a slightly higher buy-back rate of 30.5%.
Totals from Monday's first session were: 130 of 187 through the ring sold for $34,735,000 (compared with the Book 1/Book 2 daily average gross of $33,213,250 from 164 sold in 2012); the average price of $267,192 was up by 31.7% from the 2012 combined Book 1/Book 2 daily average of $202,829; median price of $200,000 jumped 33.3% from the 2012 Book 1/Book 2 median of $150,000.
At the high end, there were four yearlings selling for $1-million or more in Monday's session. Last year, during Books 1 and 2 a total of seven yearlings hit that mark. There were 13 sold for $500,000 or more, compared with 42 for Books 1 and 2 during the first four days of 2012.
“There was very strong, competitive, spirited bidding,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. Russell said buyers reacted favorably to the wider selection the new format offers and believes it brought in a broader base of investors that included domestic racehorse owners, yearling-to-2-year-old pinhookers, and international buyers. In previous years, Russell said, many buyers avoided Book 1 because of a belief (often mistaken) that prices during that session would be out of their reach.
The high RNA rate was the only negative to the session. “Certain consignors who bring horses to market are quite happy to race,” he said. “They may put a higher reserve on it.”
Russell added that moving the start time of the sale to noon was a great help allowing buyers to view as many horses as possible before each daily session begins.
The sale continues Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at noon, takes Friday off, then continues with Book 2 on Saturday and Sunday, Book 3 next Monday and Tuesday, Book 4 next Wednesday and Thursday, and Book 5 a week from Friday and Saturday.
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