by | 11.17.2010 | 12:47am

By Ray Paulick
At the suggestion of a Paulick Report reader who thinks the market declines at Monday’s opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale were overstated, we’ve done a comparison that includes figures from the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale from 2008 and 2009 and the first day of Keeneland from both years.So before we begin Tuesday’s live blog from Keeneland, we’ll spend a few minutes going over those numbers.

The assumption, and one repeated by more than a few people on the sale grounds, is that Keeneland lost some of its book one yearlings to the Saratoga sale, which was revitalized this year by Fasig-Tipton’s new, deep-pocketed owner, Dubai-based Synergy Investments. With a lot of help from Sheikh Mohammed, friend of the new owner and the industry’s leading buyer, the Saratoga sale jumped 45.6% in gross receipts and 11.1% in average, defying the trends at nearly every other Thoroughbred auction. The sale ended up with an average of $328,434, 29% higher than the opening day’s average at Keeneland. Last year’s Saratoga average was $295,738, 18.7% lower than the opening day average at Keeneland.

Do we have something of a role reversal under way?

Adding last year’s Saratoga numbers to the 2008 opening session at Keeneland gives us a total of 276 yearlings sold (122 at Saratoga, 154 at Keeneland) for $94,127,000 ($38,080,000 at Saratoga, $56,047,000 at Keeneland), an average blended price of $341,039.

This year’s two sessions of Saratoga and the opening session of Keeneland saw a combined 267 yearlings sell (160 Saratoga, 107 Keeneland) for $77,498,500 ($52,549,500 Saratoga, $24,949,000 Keeneland), an average price of $290,257.

Thus, the gross revenue from these three select sessions is down 17.7% from 2008 and the average has declined by 14.9%.

I’m not trying to sugarcoat what happened Monday. For those who remember the late 1980s and early ‘90s, yesterday’s session was reminiscent of that era when many breeders were selling yearlings for less than the stud fee invested in them–just cutting their losses. The difference today is that the racing industry, the economic engine at the foundation of Thoroughbred breeding, is lurching through troubled waters. The economics of horse ownership are worse today than they were in the late 1980s, and the crisis within the global economy only makes matters more dire.

Incidentally, just because Sheikh Mohammed stepped up his investments at Saratoga, it didn't mean there was any slowdown for him at Keeneland. His agent, John Ferguson, led all buyers Monday with 14 bought for $5,152,000, and it will be interesting to see if any of the other foreign-based purchases will end up carrying his Darley or Godolphin colors on the track.

Here are a few addition numbers to ponder:

Taylor Made, Monday’s leading consignor, offered 38 yearlings, and half were bought back and listed as RNA. Eaton Sales (excluding the five Overbrook yearlings that sold without reserves) offered 16 and bought nine back. Three Chimneys offered eight and bought five back. Some smaller consignments like Chesapeake (3 offered), Man o’ War (three) and Middlebrook Farm (2) bought all their horses back.

A few consignors had better luck: Brereton Jones offered six and bought back just one. Gainesway sold four of five offered; Lane’s End sold 14 of 18 and Warrendale sold all four, and Claiborne, Narvick and T. Wayne Sweezey and partners all were 3-for-3 in sales from their Monday offerings.

Will a reset button change things Tuesday? Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales, said his staff believes there are some potential breakout yearlings catalogued today, but he said the same thing about Monday’s book.

We’ll find out soon enough.

11:40 a.m. … Today's live blog is just like the sale itself–a bit slow to get going. I spent the first hour wandering the grounds and talking with buyers and consignors, and there are very few optimists in this crowd. The negative forces at work include the global economy, market volatility, the credit squeeze, the disappearance of investment money for pinhookers, troubles in the racing industry, a shortage of new owners and departure of some existing ones…you name it. One horseman who buys and sells, after perusing Monday's results sheet, said: “We should be bowing to Sheikh Mohammed for doing his best to hold this sale up. If it wasn't for him–and he's buying horses through other agents besides John Ferguson–it would be a lot worse than it already is, and it's bad enough.”

Speaking of Sheikh Mohammed, he helped break through the seven-figure ceiling that seemed almost a psychological barrier for the first 245 Hips catalogued. Standing alongside the ruler of Dubai, Ferguson signed the ticket for a $1 million filly by Unbridled's Song out of the Strawberry Road mare, Strawberry Reason, consigned by Stone Farm as agent. The filly is a half sister to champion Vindication.

12:10 p.m. … Last year's second session of the Keeneland September yearling sale was a bit stronger in average price than the first day, with 146 yearlings selling for $57,310,000, an average price of $392,534 and a median of $300,000.

The cumulative figures for the first two days in 2008 were: 300 sold for $113,357,000, an average of $377,857 and a median of $300,000.

So far in today's second session, including the first 40 catalogued, 22 yearlings have sold for $6,600,000, an average of $300,000 and median of $247,500 (the average includes the only $1 million horse sold thus far). There have been 12 RNAs, 35.3% (at an average price of $156,667), somewhat better than Monday's opening session. The average and median are both up from Monday, too, but still significantly down from 2008.

12:30 p.m. … With the two select sessions nearly 65% complete (Hips 1-268 of the 418 catalogued), here are the cumulative numbers (comparable figures are listed above in the 12:10 p.m. update): 141 sold sold for $34,294,000, an average of $243,220 and median price of $200,000. The number bought back stands at 95, or 40.3% of those through the ring. Today's RNAs are running at 37%.

2:20 p.m. … Here's a new one. Hip 296, an Elusive Quality colt that was selected for book one of the Keeneland sale, left the ring without a single bid being made on it. I haven't seen that before during the select sessions. A short time earlier, when Hip 280, a Giant's Causeway colt, left the ring, he sold for just $5,000. It's an unforgiving market.

Through Hip 310 (the session ends at Hip 418), the average for Tuesday was $270,756 and the median was identical to Monday's $200,000. There have been 32 RNAs, a buyback rate of 36%. The buybacks have averaged $153,563. Today's average is down 31% from 2008's comparable session. It's improved, but it's hard to find many smiling faces around here.

2:35 p.m. … That was a pleasant deja vu. John Magnier vs. Sheikh Mohammed, just like in the days of old. The two international Thoroughbred giants hooked up in the first battle royal of the sale, Hip 342, a Storm Cat colt out of the Indian Charlie mare Fleet Indian, consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency on behalf of the Summer Wind Farm of Frank and Jane Lyons, brought a final bid of $2,050,000 from Sheikh Mohammed and agent Ferguson, who were standing out back in their usual spot. Magnier, who is usually just a few paces behind the sheikh's entourage by the horse path near the back ring, had slipped inside the pavilion to do his bidding, according to sources. The final price more than doubled the sale's previous high of $1 million. The colt is the first foal out of Fleet Indian, a winner of 13 of 19 starts and champion older mare in North America.

3:20 p.m. … How would this sale be going without Sheikh Mohammed? His agent, John Ferguson, has signed 15 tickets Tuesday for yearlings totaling $7,830,000, roughly one-third of the day's gross receipts. That brings Sheikh Mohammed's two-day total to 29 yearlings purchased in the name of Ferguson, plus an unspecified number that may have been bought through associates and other agents. The $2,050,000 sale-topping Storm Cat colt has helped increase the day's average to $289,720 from 82 lots sold. The receipts so far total $23,757,000. There have been 42 RNAs from the first 124 through the ring, a percentage of 33%. The median is $222,500.

3:45 p.m. … With about 30 horses left to sell, here are the cumulative numbers for the first two days of the Keeneland September yearling sale: 198 sold for $50,961,000, an average price of $257,379 and median of $210,000. There have been 52 yearlings withdrawn and 123 listed as RNAs, a cumulative buyback rate of 38.3%. (For comparison with 2008's select sessions, see today's blog update at 12:10 p.m.)

It is almost certain the average for the two Keeneland select sessions will fall below the $328,434 average price of Fasig-Tipton's 2009 Saratoga sale. That's the first time since 1999 that Saratoga's yearling sale average topped the select sessions at Keeneland September. Back in 1999, however, Keeneland still had a July select yearling sale where many of the top offerings were sold. That sale was suspended in 2003.

We'll  report on the final numbers around 6 p.m.

6:15 p.m. … “It's a reflection of the world…it speaks for itself,” Keeneland's director of sales Geoffrey Russell said after the final hammer came down on the two select sessions of the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale. The numbers on Tuesday's second session improved across the board from Monday,  but the comparisons to previous years and the cold, hard facts left many breeders reeling.

The number sold over the two days, 222, was down 26% from last year's 300 sold, Gross receipts of $58,756,000 reflected a 48.2% drop from 2008's $113,357,000. The average of $264,667 was a decline of 30.0% from $377,857 last yeawr and the median price, $215,000, fell 28.3% from $300,000 in 2008.

There were 137 horses bought back by consignors from the 359 through the ring, an RNA rate of 38.2%, up substantially from the 30.1% buybacks in 2008.

Tuesday's comparative figures with 2008 were 115 sold for $33,807,000, an average of $293,974 and median price of $250,000. Those numbers represent a 41% decline in gross receipts, a 25.1% drop in average and a $16.7% fall in median from 2008's 146 sold for $57,310,000, an average of $392,534 and median of $300,000. Tuesday's 62 buybacks were 35% of the 177 offered, up slightly from the 32.1% RNAs at the second session in 2008.

There were three seven-figure yearlings sold Tuesday (none Monday), topped by the $2,050,000 Storm Cat colt purchased by Sheikh Mohammed's agent, John Ferguson, the leading buyer of the select sessions with 31 purchases totaling $13,460,000. It was the fewest million-dollar yearlings sold at the September sale since 1997, when two brought seven figures.

Ferguson told the Paulick Report that Sheikh Mohammed purchased additional horses through other agents, including Blandford Bloodstock, the sale's fourth leading buyer (11 for $2,742,000) but that he was uncertain of the total number. Ferguson said he would attend at least a portion of Wednesday's first non-select session before leaving Lexington.



Combining the two days of the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga select yearling sale in August with the Keeneland September select session, there were 382 yearlings sold in 2009, compared with 422 last year. The 2009 combined average of the two sales was $291,375, a decline of 18.8%. Gross receipts in 2009 were $111,305,500, a 26.5% drop from the combined FT Saratoga and Keeneland September select gross of $151,437,000 last year.In 2008, Keeneland's market share of the combined gross receipts with FT Saratoga was 74.9%, with FT's share at 25.1%. When the results of this year's top two yearling sales were finalized, Keeneland's market share fell to 52.8% with FT at 47.2%. For the first time since 1999, the FT Saratoga sale resulted in higher average prices than the select sessions at the Keeneland September sale.Â

The Paulick Report will have further analysis of the select sessions on Wednesday morning.

Book two yearlings sell Wednesday and Thursday, beginning at 10 a.m. Friday is an off day, followed by 10 consecutive days of selling starting Saturday.

 Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report

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