Keeneland's September Yearling Sale ended Saturday following a 12-day run that saw commerce achieve heights not seen in nearly a decade. A spectacular crop of yearlings spurred bidding wars among domestic and foreign buyers throughout the auction, driving gross receipts above $300 million for the first time since 2008, while producing record average and median prices and the sale of 13 seven-figure horses.
Gross sales of $307,845,400 increased 12.81 percent over 2016 by surpassing last year's 13-day auction total of $272,890,500 on the seventh day of selling. Total sales represent the highest gross since the 15-day September Sale in 2008 when 3,605 horses sold for $327,999,100. This year 2,555 horses sold compared to 2,792 in 2016.
Record average and median prices evidenced competitive trade. Cumulative average rose 23.27 percent from $97,740 to $120,487, smashing the previous September Sale record of $112,427 set in 2006. The median of $57,000 increased 42.50 percent when compared to last year's $40,000. The previous record median of $50,000 was set during the 2013-2015 September Sales.
Thirteen horses fetched $1 million or more versus nine in 2016 and were bought either individually or in partnership by nine different buyers. Eight of the seven-figure horses sold in the opening-day Book 1 session.
“The September Sale exceeded expectations in every aspect,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “The sales grounds were electric from Day 1 and that enthusiasm to buy racehorses never waned, even into the final days of the sale. Congratulations to our sellers and consignors, who brought an exceptional group of horses – truly the cream of the North American Thoroughbred foal crop – to market.”
Keeneland modified Week 1 of this year's September Sale to open with an ultra-select, single-session Book 1 that cataloged 167 premier yearlings designed to create momentum that would flow through the entire sale. A three-day Book 2 offered 1,036 yearlings, effectively doubling the number of upper-market yearlings presented to prospective buyers before the break on Friday, Sept. 15, followed Book 1.
Book 1 generated gross sales of $54,175,000, for an average of $570,263 and a median of $500,000. Headlining the session were three yearlings by leading sire Tapit sold for $2.5 million or more each.
“Mission accomplished,” Elliston said. “We sought to create a buzz right out of the gate that would carry forward throughout the sale. The Book 1 fireworks gave buyers confidence. That momentum, coupled with the critical mass of top-quality horses we put before buyers in Week 1, set the table for the success of the entire sale.”
The September Sale also launched Keeneland's September Sale Bonus Program, a two-tiered initiative that offers cash rewards to sale graduates who win graded or group stakes. The Book 1 Bonus targets Grade or Group 1 stakes winners sold as yearlings in Book 1. The Seller Bonus extends opportunities for rewards to all eligible graded or group stakes winners sold at any time during the September Sale.
“Keeneland will offer approximately $2 million per year in incentives beginning with the 2017 September Sale graduates,” Elliston said. “The bonuses added interest to the excitement; gave buyers a reason to stretch and make that next bid, go that extra step to get that horse. Keeneland will be cheering on our September Sale graduates as they begin racing next year.”
The September Sale benefited from an exceptionally deep buying bench that was a healthy mix of American and international interests. Seventy-five unique buyers spent more than $1 million during the auction. Foreign buyers made more than $80 million in purchases.
“We saw participation from a good cross section of European buyers – pinhookers, trainers and owners – at every level of the market and well into the second week,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell said. “Their interest was heightened because September Sale graduates like Group 1 winners Lady Aurelia, Roly Poly, Hawkbill and Order of St George (IRE) performed well in Europe this season, and American-bred horses brought good returns at recent European breeze-up sales. Further evidence is the fact that we had a record number of BHA tests (British Horseracing Authority testing for anabolic steroids in yearlings that are being exported to Great Britain and other countries) this September.”
End-users were at the forefront of buyers in Books 1 and 2, though both end-users and pinhookers found it hard to buy in the competitive environment.
“It was a tough sale. We were underbidder I don't know how many times. So we stuck around (buying two horses for $270,000 in Book 5),” said Ben Glass, agent for Gary and Mary West. In all, Glass spent a total of $4,990,000 for 24 yearlings.
Gabriel Duignan, co-owner of Paramount Sales, which sold 111 horses for $13,201,400, including a $2.5 million colt, agreed.
“It's probably the best sale we've seen in years,” he said. “There were a lot of active buyers. On the first night there were so many people that had a million-plus to bid with. I haven't seen that for a long time. That's a healthy sign. It's not one or two entities buying all the expensive ones. We have a lot of people willing to step up. Since the first night, we've had a knockdown effect. People got shut out and had to go on to the next book to buy and so on.
“Our product is healthy at the moment,” he added. “Everything has been positive from American Pharoah onward. If you watch handle, it's up a little at the tracks. Might be making a little bit of a revival. The economy has been good; the stock market is good. Just seems to be a good appetite (for horses).”
For the second consecutive year and the fifth time in the past eight years, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Shadwell Estate Company Ltd. ranked as leading buyer, purchasing 17 yearlings for $12,475,000. Shadwell's top purchase was a $2.5 million colt by Tapit out of Grade 1 winner Tiz Miz Sue consigned by Paramount Sales, agent.
Counted among the sale's leading buyers were Mike Ryan, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum's Godolphin, Coolmore's M.V. Magnier, Steven W. Young, Maverick Racing and China Horse Club, Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm, Don Alberto Corporation and Shadai Farm. New buyers such as Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock, Marchmont Stable and Larry Best's OXO Equine also made an impact at the top of the market. Several notable buyers, among them American Peter Brant's White Birch Farm and England's Cheveley Park Stud, returned to the sale after absences.
The September Sale also attracted the world's most notable trainers shopping for their next superstar, including reigning Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown; Hall of Famers Steve Asmussen, Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer and Bill Mott; seven-time Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, Mark Casse, Christophe Clement, Brad Cox, Graham Motion and Wesley Ward. Joining them were such top international trainers as John Gosden, Aidan O'Brien, Mark Johnston, Jeremy Noseda, William Haggas, David Lanigan, Jeremy McKeever, Joseph O'Brien, Sir Mark Prescott and Richard Gibson.
For the eighth consecutive year, the September Sale produced the top-priced yearling sold at public auction in North America.
The sale's three highest-priced yearlings were progeny of Tapit. M.V. Magnier paid $2.7 million for the sale-topper, a full sister to 2017 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) winner Cupid consigned by VanMeter-Gentry Sales, agent. Whisper Hill Farm went to $2.6 million for a colt from the family of multiple Grade 1 winner Gun Runner from the consignment of Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent. Shadwell acquired the aforementioned colt out of Tiz Miz Sue for $2.5 million.
For the second consecutive year and the third time in the past four years, Tapit was the September Sale's leading sire by average. His 17 yearlings averaged $950,000, the highest since 2006 when Danzig's 12 yearlings averaged $1,465,833. Four of Tapit's yearlings, including the aforementioned top three, sold for $1 million or more.
Four yearlings by War Front brought seven figures, led by the $1.9 million paid by Donato Lanni, agent, for a colt out of Grade 1 winner Iotapa consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent.
Scat Daddy, who died unexpectedly in 2015, was the September Sale's leading sire with 51 yearlings selling for $17,045,000.
“The North American stallion ranks are deep and strong at the moment,” Russell said. “Established sires like Tapit, War Front, Scat Daddy, Medaglia d'Oro and Quality Road did very well as expected. But there is also excitement surrounding young sires like Cairo Prince, Violence, Orb and Will Take Charge that hopefully foretells success for years to come.”
Taylor Made Sales Agency was the September Sale's leading consignor for the third consecutive year and the 19th time since 1988. Taylor Made sold 270 horses for $38,679,400, highlighted by the Tapit colt sold to Whisper Hill Farm for $2.6 million.
“It's a great sale. The (new) format changed the vibe of the sale throughout in a good way,” Mark Taylor, Vice President of Marketing and Public Sales Operations for Taylor Made Sales Agency, said. “(Activity from regular buyers later in the sale) is a sign people didn't have all their orders filled. In Book 5 last year, there was a scattering of looks in the barn. This year, it's just very vibrant. There were times (on Thursday of Week 2) that people were waiting (at the barn) to see horses. The horse industry, we have some struggles, but this was a real shot in the arm the way this sale has gone.”
During Saturday's final session, Keeneland sold 135 horses for $1,467,800, for an average of $10,873 and a median of $7,000. A colt by Take Charge Indy out of the Indian Charlie mare Croon sold for $85,000 to Shortleaf Stable to be the day's highest-priced yearling. He was consigned by Heaven Trees, agent.
Racing resumes at Keeneland on Friday, Oct. 6, kicking off with Fall Stars Weekend featuring nine graded stakes, eight of which are Breeders' Cup Challenge “Win and You're In” races. Keeneland's next auction is the November Breeding Stock Sale, which runs Nov. 7-18.
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