09/24/2011 5:18PM

Keeneland sale ends with strong gains


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's September sale, the largest Thoroughbred yearling auction in the world, ended Saturday with strong gains that gave consignors hope that the market was on the rebound.

After the gavel fell for the last time Saturday afternoon, Keeneland's 13 sessions had sold 2,921 yearlings for gross receipts totaling $223,487,800, a 13-percent upward bounce from last year's total for 3,059 horses at a 14-day vendue. The 2011 auction passed last year's gross on Sept. 19 at its eighth session.

Both the average price and median advanced strongly, as well. The average price gained 13 percent over last year to reach $76,511, and the median performed even better, climbing 20 percent to $30,000. All but one of the auction's 13 sessions posted gains. The one that did not was the second select session on Monday, Sept. 12, but its losses were offset by strong gains the night before. Sunday's opening select session also produced the sale-topper, a $1.4 million A. P. Indy-Malka colt that John Amerman, Robert "Shel" Evans, and an anonymous third partner bought from the Hill 'n' Dale Sales agency. The colt is from the family of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and champion juvenile Rhythm.

The A. P. Indy sale-topper was one of six yearlings to bring $1 million or more at the auction, doubling the number sold in 2010, although last year's sale-topper - another A. P. Indy colt, out of Balance - brought a larger price of $4.2 million.

Keeneland sale officials credited the 2011 sale's new format with contributing to the gains. The company trimmed the Book 2 portion of the sale immediately following the select sessions from four days to three.

"We gave strength to Book 2 by tweaking the format, reducing its size, and shifting some of those horses to Book 3," said director of sales Geoffrey Russell. "The change also strengthened Book 3 by generating momentum that carried from Book 1 to Book 2 and then throughout the entire second week of the sale."

The sale also got a boost from two estate dispersals. The late Edward P. "Ned" Evans's estate sold its first draft at the sale, grossing $6,527,000 for 50 horses, and the late Saud bin Khaled's Palides Investments dispersed 10 yearlings for $987,500.

Another factor that lifted the market: a smaller foal crop that has resulted in a thinner catalog and the recent decline in stud fees, enabling consignors' reserves to more often meet buyers' expectations.

In a sign that consignors generally were pleased with the market, the buy-back rate for horses who went through the ring dropped from 27 percent last year to 21 percent.

Saturday's final session also saw big gains. Gross sales for the day went up 37 percent versus last year as 185 yearlings brought $1,308,400. Last season's final day sold 197 head for $957,200.
The average price rose 46 percent to $7,072, and the median climbed 50 percent to $4,500. The buy-back rate was just 11 percent, a sharp drop of 62 percent from last year's session buy-back rate of 29 percent.

Kim Valerio purchased Saturday's joint session-toppers, spending $35,000 each for a Tiz Wonderful-Summer Star filly from Spendthrift Farm (Shawhan Place, agent) and a Henny Hughes-Totally Crafty colt from the Blake-Albina Thoroughbred agency.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum was the auction's leading buyer overall, spending $8,870,000 for 36 yearlings. But the market was notable for strong domestic participation, led by the sale's second-biggest spender, Besilu Stables owner Benjamin Leon. Leon bought a pair of seven-figure yearlings, a $1.3 million Unbridled's Song-Lady of Choice filly (the most expensive filly of the auction) from the Dromoland Farm agency and a $1.2 million Bernardini-Silk n' Sapphire filly from Catherine Parke's Valkyre Stud.

Other major domestic buyers were agent Ben Glass, representing Mary and Gary West's stable in purchasing 21 yearlings for $5,225,000, and Frank Stronach's Adena Springs, with 44 horses costing $4,574,000. Stronach also spent at the million-dollar level, buying the sale's second highest-priced yearling. That was a $1.35 million colt by Adena stallion Awesome Again out of minor stakes-winner Legs Lawlor. Greenwood Lodge Farm was the consignor.