09/25/2017 1:00PM

Keeneland sale hits all the high notes

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Keeneland drastically changed the blueprint for the 2017 renewal of its flagship September yearling sale, and by just about any tangible measurement, it was a success.

The North American Thoroughbred industry’s bellwether yearling auction posted record average and median sale prices, and surpassed $300 million in revenues for the first time since 2008, topped by a $2.7-million Tapit filly who sold to the Coolmore partnership.

The auction company tweaked the structure of its first two books, cutting Book 1 down from three days to one super-select session, and expanding Book 2 from two days to three. Under the new format, the number of horses cataloged prior to the auction’s traditional dark day practically doubled to 1,203 from 607.

Buyers responded with brisk trade that carried through to the middle and lower markets, closing with 2,555 yearlings sold during the 12-day sale for total gross revenues of $307,845,400. The gross was the sixth-highest in the auction’s history, and marked a 13 percent increase from last year’s 13-day auction. This year’s gross surpassed last year’s final total during the seventh session, just past the halfway point.

“Our goal in the format was to create excitement and momentum, and I think we succeeded very well in that,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales operations. “I think there’s enthusiasm anyway in the market for horses. The Thoroughbred industry is doing very well, but with this sale being the barometer of it, we’re seeing depth at all levels of the market that we haven’t seen in a while.”

The average sale price closed at an all-time high of $120,487, showing a 23 percent gain over last year. The previous record average came in 2006, when the number was $112,427.

Also reaching a record high was the median, which finished at $57,000, a 43 percent improvement over 2016 and bettering the previous mark of $50,000 hit three consecutive years, from 2013 to 2015.

The cumulative buyback rate finished at a slightly improved 25 percent.

VanMeter-Gentry at the top

A long-standing relationship between buyer and seller can go a long way at the Keeneland September yearling sale, and the synergy between the Coolmore operation and VanMeter-Gentry Sales Agency helped push the latter to the top of the auction’s consignor list by average sale price.

VanMeter-Gentry consigned this year’s sale-topper, a $2.7-million full sister to Grade 1 winner Cupid who will join her sibling under the Coolmore banner. Both horses are by leading sire Tapit, out of Grade 2-placed Pretty ‘n Smart.

The transaction was the high point of a banner auction for the consignment operation of Tom VanMeter and Olin Gentry, which moved 18 horses for a combined $6,183,000 and an average of $343,500. VanMeter-Gentry was also the only consignment in the top 15 by gross to sell fewer than 20 horses.

Dream Team, a full brother to the sale-topper and Cupid, sold to Coolmore for $1 million at the 2013 Keeneland September sale, and the operation returned at the following year’s sale to buy Cupid for $900,000. Cupid has gone on to win four graded stakes, highlighted by the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita earlier this year.

“We knew she was very popular, sort of a collector’s item,” VanMeter said about the sale-topper. “They were congregating on her all weekend [of showing], and we knew it was going to be good. We didn’t know how good. It was awesome.

“Cupid was a really nice horse. This was a better physical than Cupid. Now we just need Cupid to win that one on Nov. 4” – the Breeders’ Cup Classic – “and these guys will look even smarter than they already are.”

VanMeter-Gentry also consigned half-brother to Grade 2 winner Parranda, by War Front, who sold to Kerri Radcliffe as agent for Phoenix Bloodstock for $1.1 million.

Taylor Made leads by gross

Taylor Made Sales Agency was the leading consignor by gross of the Keeneland September yearling sale for the 19th time since 1985, achieving the feat more in that time span than all other consignors combined.

The Nicholasville, Ky., operation sold 270 yearlings during this year’s auction for $38,679,400, led by the sale’s second-most expensive horse, a Tapit colt out of Grade 1-placed Miss Besilu who sold to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm for $2.6 million.

Also highlighting the Taylor Made consignment was a War Front colt out of Grade 1 winner Iotapa who sold to Donato Lanni, as agent, for $1.9 million.

On a session-by-session basis, Taylor Made was the leading consignor by gross five times during the 12-day auction, including the marquee single-day Book 1 to open the sale.

“We were really pleased,” Taylor Made’s Duncan Taylor said. “You always have some spots that you don’t think it went so good or you could have done something a little better, but overall, we’re very thankful for the customers that came and bought our horses, and for the breeders that let us sell them. Our team performed well, so we’re happy.”