04/06/2012 1:15PM

Keeneland April select sale: High-end buyers still tend to be picky

Photo by Z/Keeneland
Hip No. 46, a colt sired by Giants Causeway, breezes during Thursday's under-tack show.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – When Keeneland’s April select 2-year-old sale takes place Monday in Lexington, consignors and auction officials hope it will provide more evidence that the boutique juvenile market has emerged from the post-2008 meltdown and is galloping solidly into recovery.

Last year’s sale saw across-the-board declines, but many saw the relatively shallow dips as a sign recovery was on the way. This season, operating on a reconfigured schedule, the select 2-year-old sales so far have given consignors and those in the horse auction business more to smile about. March select auctions at Barretts in California and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company in Florida saw gains in all categories; the OBS sale even eked out an increase in gross despite selling 58 fewer horses from a smaller catalog. At the most recent select auction, Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale, a slimmer catalog didn’t result in a higher gross, but the auction’s average and median both advanced, by 35 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Such figures warm an auction executive’s heart, but the high-end juvenile market still shows signs of extreme buyer selectivity. It’s still, in other words, an all-or-nothing game for many consignors.

“I think it’s probably about the same,” Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell said of the selectivity, “but with one caveat: In the past, sometimes people would move down a bracket if they didn’t get their number one pick. Now, they seem to be having all their eggs in one basket. They want their number one, and if they don’t buy it, they don’t buy anything. They seem to hone in on a group of horses, and if they can’t buy them, they don’t go to the next level.”

The bottom line, says Russell: “The 2-year-old sales are very selective. So as long as the individuals are good, there is a strong demand for those good individuals. If that demand continues, with the stock we have, I think we’ll be in good shape.

“In general, there does seem to be a bounce in people’s steps with regard to the economy. We’re hearing that people are hiring, there’s more investment being done, there’s more consumer spending. All of that is positive.”

Like all but Barretts March among select 2-year-old sales this year, Keeneland’s April sale published a slightly smaller catalog, 161 versus 169 a year ago, but outs – including the withdrawals of half-sisters to Creative Cause and The Factor – had sliced that to 115 by Friday.

Smaller foal crops have contributed to the drop in numbers, but it’s not the only factor, says Russell.

“There are a different ways to get into a 2-year-old catalog,” he noted. “You have 2-year-old consignors that pinhooked them, and you have breeders who didn’t sell their horses as yearlings. When you consider that the Keeneland September sale last year had an RNA rate of 20.8 percent for the whole sale, there are definitely fewer breeders’ horses available to go back into the 2-year-old marketplace.

“The core group of our 2-year-old consignors, the pinhookers we’ve had this year and for several years, we’ve seen a change in their buying pattern,” he added. “They’re still buying nice, good quality horses, they’re just not buying in quantity. So they keep their high standards and get as much pedigree as they can get and as good an individual as they can buy, but they’re not buying as many horses.”

There are some pretty heady pedigrees on offer at Keeneland’s April auction. Freshman sire Big Brown, whose son of Cool Ghoul topped Fasig-Tipton’s Florida sale at $1.3 million, has a half-sister to Grade 1-placed Beautician in Hip No. 112. Raven’s Pass has a filly out of Grade 1-placed Rhiana who also is a half-sister to Behindatthebar (51). Street Hero’s freshman class includes Hip No. 160, a half-brother to Majestic City.

Second-crop sire Teuflesberg has just one lot in the sale, a full sister to his Grade 1-placed son Trinniberg (101); she also was one of seven horses to work a furlong in 9.8 seconds at the sale’s April 5 under-tack show. The late champion Lawyer Ron, whose second crop also is his last, is represented by a full brother to his Grade 1 winner Drill (115).

Among more established sires, Distorted Humor has a colt out of 2005 Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly (70), and Medaglia d’Oro’s group includes a half-brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Magical Fantasy (8) as well as a half-brother to major earner J’ray (109). There’s also a Medaglia d’Oro filly out of Tiznow’s full sister, Balboa Betty (98), and Tiznow himself has a son of Grade 1 performer Nasty Storm (32).

Unbridled’s Song has one of the largest groups with six, including a son of Madcap Escapade who is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Mi Sueno (18), while Proud Citizen’s only offering is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1-placed Santa Catarina (43). Repent also has a single offering, a full sister to Crown of Thorns (125). Lion Heart also has one, a full sister to 2011 Alcibiades runner-up Heart of Destiny (130).

Dynaformer’s trio includes a half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Antonius Pius (113). Lemon Drop Kid’s draft of five includes a half-sister to 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle (44) as well as a half-brother to Woke Up Dreamin (133). Dixie Union has a son of Grade 1-placed See how She Runs (57).

Keeneland’s April select sale begins 4 p.m. Monday in Keeneland’s sale pavilion adjacent to the racetrack.