04/07/2014 7:04PM

Keeneland April: Limited horse population drives record average, median

Keeneland photo
A son of Malibu Moon sold for $1 million to lead Monday's Keeneland 2-year-olds in training auction, the first horse to command seven figures at the April sale since 2009.

More than half the catalog was scratched before the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale began on Monday, but the horses that remained sold well, helping the auction finish with record average and median sale figures.

Keeneland reported 38 horses sold during the one-day auction for revenues of $8,769,000, the second-lowest gross in the sale’s 22-year history. That marked a 25 percent decrease compared with the 2013 renewal, when 59 horses sold for $11,640,000.

However, the average sale price enjoyed a 17 percent spike, rising from $197,288 to $230,763, while the median sale price jumped 33 percent, from $150,000 to $200,000. Both figures represented all-time high water marks for the Keeneland April sale.

The buyback rate rose slightly, from 26 percent to 31 percent.

A Malibu Moon half-brother to Grade 1 winner and elite sire Tapit, bred on a similar A.P. Indy-line cross, earned the top price of the evening, selling to the partnership of Gainesway, Mt. Brilliant Farm, and Robert LaPenta for $1 million.

Monday’s topper was the seven-figure horse sold at Keeneland April since 2009, when Take Control topped the two-session auction at $1.9 million.

“The [sale-topper] was the first for a million dollars in many a year, and the second-highest price [a $770,000 Medaglia d’Oro–Victory Ride colt] was higher than last year’s sale topper,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It’s just the nature of the 2-year-old market. It’s very polarizing. The top prices seem to get bigger. There was a disappointing number of outs, but unfortunately we don’t have control of that.”

The horse population was the lowest in the sale’s history, with a catalog of 125 scratched down to 55 offerings as bidding began. The majority of those scratches came before last Thursday’s breeze show, leaving 44 percent of the horses cataloged to actually go through the ring.

“We make an effort to recruit internationally and domestically, so when buyers see 53 outs before the gallop show, it’s hard for some buyers to want to come in for it,” Russell said. “That’s the difficult part.

“Yes, we would like a much larger catalog,” he continued, “but the foal crop’s down, [so] the number of 2-year-olds that are going to be sold is down. For most 2-year-old consignors, we’re an out-of-state sale, so these things have to be factored in.”

The sale-topper is out of the stakes-winning Unbridled mare Tap Your Heels, the dam of two stakes horses. Tapit captured the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in 2004 and the Grade 3 Laurel Futurity the prior year. Now standing at Gainesway in Lexington, Ky., Tapit has developed into one of the most popular stallions of his generation, and currently sits atop the 2014 North American sire rankings as measured by progeny earnings.

The chestnut colt was consigned by Niall Brennan Stables, as agent for breeder Barouche Stud (Ireland) Ltd. He breezed one furlong in 9 4/5 seconds during the under-tack show on Keeneland’s all-weather Polytrack surface.

“It’s very seldom you ever get to have a horse like Tapit on your farm, so when a half-brother comes up with a lot of ability, you rather want to try to own the horse if you can,” said Gainesway President Antony Beck. “He moved over the ground really easily, just skipped along effortlessly. He has tremendous action, and he’s a fast horse. Hopefully he’ll win some stakes for us.”

Beck said the colt would go to trainer Chad Brown to begin his racing career.

“I thought his breeze was exceptional,” Brennan said. “I’m certainly not known to push our horses. The track was fast, we had a strong tailwind, certainly those conditions were ripe – but the way he did it, there’s just not too many horses that can go that fast doing it the way he did it.

“He was never out of rhythm, he was never hustled. He was always within himself, he went into the bend in such an agile manner, and it took nothing out of him. He came home and it didn’t take anything out of him to do that. Only good horses, only good athletes, can perform like that.”

Bred in Kentucky, the colt is from the family of champion Summer Bird, multiple Grade 1 winner and champion Rubiano, and Kentucky Oaks contender In Tune. He is the first foal out of Tap Your Heels to bring seven figures at public auction.

Both Beck and Brennan said they expected the colt to bring around a million dollars. The final price, Brennan said, depended on how many bidders were willing to go the distance for him.

“It’s early, but I think he’s worth every penny, because if he’s as good as I think he is, he’s worth way more than [$1 million] as a stallion prospect,” Brennan said. “He has to go out and prove it now, but he’s just been an unbelievable student.

“He moves like a cat out on the racetrack,” Brennan continued. “He’s so agile and he makes it look so easy. I think those horses are the ones that have a chance to get that ‘A’ level, that top level. He’s without question a ‘Saturday afternoon’ exciting proposition and he’s got a pedigree to go with it.”

Brennan was the sale’s leading consignor, with six horses sold for a combined $2,360,000. The Gainesway/Mt. Brilliant/LaPenta partnership was the auction’s leading buyer, with the single purchase of the $1 million sale topper.

For hip-by-hip results, click here.

–Additional reporting by Nicole Russo

Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale, final results:

Year Sold Gross Average Median Buyback
2014 38 (-36%) $8,769,000 (-25%) $230,763 (+17%) $200,000 (+33%) 31%
2013 59 $11,640,000 $197,288 $150,000 26%