04/04/2014 2:06PM

Keeneland April: Finale for select juvenile market

Photos by Z/Keeneland
An Unbridled's Song filly brought $700,000 to lead last year's Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. The 2014 edition of the sale is set for Monday.

In a juvenile season that has shown ups and downs in its early stages, the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale will be the last signpost for the select marketplace before the calendar moves into the open sales of the late spring and summer.

The one-day auction will be held Monday, April 7, at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern. The presale under-tack show was held April 3.

“We look forward to the April sale every year,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It’s kind of the end of one cycle and the start of another. With the opening of the race meet at the same time, it just all comes together very well.”

This year’s catalog features 125 entries, down 9 percent compared with the 137 juveniles that comprised the 2013 sale, although there were 62 outs reported as of Friday. However, Russell said that the declining foal crops have created a “quality over quantity” book of offerings, as evidenced by the makeup of this year’s book, which features three juveniles by leading worldwide sire Galileo.

“I think it’s just the overall market,” Russell said. “The number of horses are down, so the size of the catalog is going to reflect that. The quality of the catalog is very good. The fact that we’ve got three Galileos cataloged in the sale gives it an international flavor, and some of the best studs in the world are represented in the catalog, so we’re very pleased with it.”

The Keeneland sale holds the distinction of being the only major select juvenile sale in North America to be held at a racetrack during an active meet. Consignor Justin Casse of Casse Sales said this could give the buying population a unique dynamic compared with other auctions on the calendar.

“You’ll probably get a higher trainer population there because, as opposed to the Ocala sales, you’re there when the races are taking place, and everyone can come in nearby,” Casse said. “The highest end will show up, because the sale’s got the magnificent pedigrees you’re looking for, and I’m sure there’s going to be some nice physicals. Hopefully some of the trainers in the area will help pluck some of those middle-market horses.”

The 2-year-old market has been largely positive thus far, with increased figures at the Barretts March selected 2-year-olds in training sale and record returns at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s March selected juvenile sale. However, the most recent stop on the select auction calendar, the Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training, experienced across-the-board declines.

“It’s been a bit of a boom or bust year,” Casse said. “We have the high-end [buyers] playing, and the middle market’s been extremely soft, excluding the OBS March sale. There were people there that were interested in horses between $80,000 and $200,000, whereas the other sales were really just the highest end.”

Russell said that the big picture of the Thoroughbred auction market – bolstered by overwhelmingly positive returns at the winter and fall mixed sales, and reaching back to the central Kentucky yearling sales of last year – gave him reason to believe the upcoming edition of the Keeneland April sale would be successful.

“The sales in general, not just the 2-year-old market, have done very well since our last September sale,” Russell said. “There’s a great interest in horses, which we’ve seen again in this year’s juvenile market, and the prices have reflected that, so we hope that trend continues.”

Last year’s Keeneland April sale closed with revenues of $11,640,000 from 59 horses sold, up 19 percent compared with 2012, when the same number of juveniles sold brought $9,754,000. The average sale price also rose 19 percent, from $165,322 to $197,288, while the median increased 25 percent, from $120,000 to $150,000.  The buyback rate took a significant drop at last year’s sale, going from 38 percent to 26 percent.

The auction was led by a $700,000 Unbridled’s Song filly, now named Middlemist Red, who sold to John McCormack Bloodstock and now resides in France. The bay filly is out of the winning Giant’s Causeway mare Eden’s Causeway – making her a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Eden’s Moon – and is from the female family of champion and prominent sire Theatrical and several other high-class horses. She was consigned by Ciaran Dunne’s Wavertree Stables, agent.

The 2013 edition of the Keeneland April sale has also produced Grade 2 winner Bashart (consigned by Scanlon Training Center, agent, an RNA at $195,000), as well as Grade 3 winners Euphrosyne (consigned by Niall Brennan Stables, agent, an RNA at $185,000) and Vinceremos (consigned by Wavertree Stables, agent, purchased by Twin Creeks Racing for $340,000).

The sale received a major résumé boost last year, when Palace Malice became the fourth Keeneland April graduate to win a Triple Crown race by virtue of his score in the Belmont Stakes, following in the steps of Thunder Gulch (Kentucky Derby and Belmont, 1995), Big Brown (Derby and Preakness Stakes, 2008), and Lookin At Lucky (Preakness, 2010). Palace Malice was consigned by Niall Brennan Stables, agent, at the 2012 sale and sold to Dogwood Stable for $200,000.

“Having a current classic horse that’s come back and won the Gulfstream Park Handicap [and New Orleans Handicap], that’s the kind of horse these buyers are looking for,” Russell said. “They’re looking for the classic, two-turn horse and we’ve always positioned ourselves for that kind of a horse. The consignors have traditionally done that because we’re a later sale, so they can prepare the horses for that, and they’ve done very well.”

In addition to Palace Malice, the class of Keeneland April 2012 graduates included Grade 2 winner Balance the Books (consigned by Niall Brennan Stables, agent, sold to Klaravich Stable for $160,000) and Grade/Group 3 winners Winning Cause (consigned by de Meric Sales, agent, an RNA at $170,000) and What a Name (consigned by Wavertree Stables, agent, purchased by John McCormack Bloodstock for $350,000).

The group also includes Normandy Invasion, last year’s fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby who has returned to become an imposing figure in the handicap division (consigned by Eddie Woods, agent, sold to Fox Hill Farms for $230,000). He and Palace Malice made up the exacta for last week’s Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Fair Grounds.

“The April sale has been a very successful place for buyers to come and buy the classic horse and the graded stakes horse,” Russell said. “The consignors have always given us lots of good-quality horses to bid on, and they’ve gone on and performed very well.”

April 7, 4 p.m. Eastern
Where: Keeneland sales pavilion, 4201 Versailles Rd., Lexington, Ky. 40510
Phone: (859) 254-3412
Catalog: 125 horses, down 9 percent from 137 last year
Recent history: The 2013 sale posted overall increases while selling 59 horses for $11,640,000 (up 19 percent), an average price of $197,288 (up 19 percent), and a median of $150,000 (up 25 percent). John McCormack Bloodstock bought an Unbridled’s Song filly out of Eden’s Causeway, consigned by Wavertree Stables, agent, for $700,000 to top the sale. Named Middlemist Red, the filly is unraced.
Internet: Live streaming at www.keeneland.com