Lexington, Ky. – Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale closed Saturday following nearly two weeks of robust trade that generated solid gains led by a record-equaling median price and the sale of 11 seven-figure yearlings.
Gross receipts for the 12-day sale, held Sept. 14-26, totaled $281,496,100, surpassing total sales of $279,960,500 recorded during last year’s 13-day auction. Keeneland sold 2,745 yearlings this year compared to 2,819 in 2014.
The cumulative average increased 3.26 percent, from $99,312 to $102,549.
The median, a key gauge of a healthy market, remained unchanged from the record $50,000 posted in 2013 and 2014.
“Brisk trade was seen at every level of the market,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “There is an underlying current of optimism, and buyer enthusiasm was not dampened by the economic volatility of this past summer. As we’ve seen in recent years, buyers are willing to stretch their budgets to get the exceptional horses. Consignors who brought a top horse were very well rewarded.”
Keeneland adjusted the format for Book 1 this year, shortening opening week from four days to three, and cataloging more horses each day.
“The format adjustment fulfilled our goal to generate momentum from Book 1 that carried over into Book 2, Book 3 and beyond,” Keeneland Director of Sales Geoffrey Russell said. “The change gave more Week 1 buyers the opportunity to see horses in Book 3, which they likely weren’t able to do in the past.”
Michael Hernon, director of sales for Gainesway, agreed.
“In essence, (the change) raised the market for Books 2 and 3,” Hernon said. “By tightening (Book 1) up from four to three days, Keeneland was able to offer more horses in those three sessions. The number change allowed for more synergy in the market. The dark day was moved up, thereby allowing the usual suspects who wanted to fly out of town exposure to Book 2 horses and a few of them got exposure to some Book 3 horses.”
Buyers continued to be selective in their purchases, as evidenced by the strength at the top of the market. Eleven yearlings commanded $1 million or more compared to 13 last year. A colt by leading North American sire Tapit brought the sale-topping price of $2.1 million. For the second consecutive year, Keeneland has sold the highest-priced horse offered at public auction in North America.
Those 11 seven-figure yearlings were bought by 10 different entities, a positive indication that the money was spread among a number of buyers.
Overall in the sale, 75 percent of the buyers who spent a total of $1 million or more for yearlings this year increased their spending from the 2014 September Sale.
The upper middle market remained strong as 123 horses sold for $400,000 or more and spanned Books 1-4 versus 121 horses in the same range sold in Books 1-2 in 2014. Further evidence of the sale’s strong performance was the fact that in 10 of the 12 sessions, the highest-priced yearling exceeded the top price of the corresponding session last year.
“Everybody finds the nice horse; they vet, (they) look the part, (they are) by the right sire. It was tough to buy them this year,” said Ben Glass, racing manager and bloodstock adviser to Gary and Mary West. “We try to buy athletic-looking horses. We don’t try to spend over $500,000 on them, so I get outbid on some that I really like that people go crazy on.”
Glass bought 26 yearlings for $5,550,000 to lead all buyers in number of horses purchased.
The keen competition among buyers for the top individuals resulted in several breakout horses sold in Books 3 and 4 during the second week of the sale. A Curlin filly sold for $975,000 to racing newcomer Vern Dickman during the second day of Book 3 on Monday, Sept. 21. The figure marks the highest price recorded in Book 3 since the sale of a Johannesburg colt for $1 million in 2007. On opening day of Book 3, a Quality Road colt sold for $710,000 to Walnut Green. Book 4 was headlined by a colt by Astrology sold to Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton for $425,000 and a half-sister to Grade 1 stakes winner Nyquist bought for $330,000 by Bridlewood Farm.
“The September Sale is an expansive market, representative of horses and buyers at all levels,” Russell said. “It is unmatched in terms of the assemblage of exceptional individuals and the tremendous diversity and depth of our buying bench.”
A good mix of the world’s leading foreign and U.S. horsemen – among them major owners, trainers and pinhookers – actively participated, several as both consignors and buyers. The strength of the American dollar worldwide, however, resulted in limited participation from certain international interests.
Domestic buyers flexed their buying power. Joining Ben Glass were such other prominent buyers as Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm; J. J. Crupi’s New Castle Farm; Roy and Gretchen Jackson’s Lael Stable; Goncalo Torrealba of Three Chimneys Farm; Justin Zayat, representing his family’s Zayat Stables; B. Wayne Hughes’s Spendthrift Farm; Antony Beck’s Gainesway Farm; Ernie Semersky and Dory Newell’s Conquest Stable and Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm.
Major foreign interests were among the leading buyers in the cumulative rankings. John Ferguson, bloodstock adviser to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, purchased 24 yearlings for $8,235,000 to top all buyers. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Estate Company Ltd. spent $4,755,000 on nine yearlings. M. V. Magnier, representing Coolmore, bought six yearlings for $3,525,000. Japanese interests also played a prominent role: Teruya Yoshida’s Shadai Farm acquired four yearlings for $2,050,000 and Teruo Ono purchased four horses for $1,950,000.
“The buyers came in waves, literally and figuratively,” Hernon said. “Keeneland has done a great job of attracting the South American buying contingent, and they’re still present (in the final days of the sale).”
Leading North American sire Tapit reigned as top sire by gross at the September Sale for the second consecutive year, represented by 32 yearlings that totaled $16,860,000. Yearlings by Tapit fetched the two highest prices of the sale: One from the family of 1988 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Winning Colors sold to Mandy Pope for $2.1 million, and a second out of multiple Grade 1 winner Pure Clan went for $1.65 million to Lael Stable.
A full sister to Grade 1 stakes winners To Honor and Serve and Angela Renee commanded $1.5 million from Justin Zayat to be the sale’s highest-priced filly.
All three yearlings were consigned by Gainesway, which stands Tapit, and all sold on the third day of Book 1.
A hallmark of the September Sale is the depth and breadth of its stallion roster. In addition to Tapit, such established sires as War Front, Medaglia d’Oro, Distorted Humor and Bernardini, as well as the promising first-crop stallions Bodemeister and The Factor, ranked among the top by gross sales.
This year’s catalog also offered international appeal with yearlings representing such important foreign-based sires as Fastnet Rock (AUS), Frankel (GB), Galileo (IRE), Invincible Spirit (IRE), Excelebration (IRE) and Nathaniel (IRE), which were promoted in advance of the sale and well-received.
Taylor Made Sales Agency was the sale’s leading consignor, selling 256 yearlings for $32,822,200. Since 1988, Taylor Made has topped the September Sale consignor list 17 times.
During Saturday’s final session, 170 horses sold for $1,518,800, for an average of $8,934 and a median of $7,000. Bluesky Banker Bob, a filly by Stormy Atlantic, brought the highest price of the final session, selling for $65,000 to Sparks View Farm. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, the filly is out of the winning Elusive Quality mare Pleasant Quality.
The September Sale kicks off an historic fall at Keeneland. On Friday, Oct. 2, Keeneland opens its 17-day Fall Meet, followed by Prelude to the Cup on Oct. 29 and the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on Oct. 30-31. Keeneland’s next auction will be the November Breeding Stock Sale, to be held Nov. 2-13.