09/07/2012 3:02PM

Keeneland sale provides yearling market's biggest test


LEXINGTON, Ky. – Keeneland’s September yearling sale, which opens Monday and runs through Sept. 21, will prove the biggest test yet of a yearling market that sellers hope will continue early-season positive trends.

The auction format changes slightly this year. The most obvious change is in Book 1, the select session, which drops from night sessions into a single afternoon session this year, starting at 4 p.m. Monday. That will feature 132 horses. Book 2 takes place Tuesday through Thursday with 305 horses a day, starting at 11 a.m. daily. After a dark day Friday, selling resumes with Book 3 on Saturday, with that and the remaining sessions starting at 10 a.m. daily.

The September sale catalog features 17 percent fewer horses this year, with 3,604 before scratches, and the lower number in a time of apparently level demand is just one positive that consignors and sale executives see heading into this year’s auction. Between opening day at last year’s auction and Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average had risen 16.4 percent, and earlier yearling sales have suggested that there are still buyers with discretionary money to spend on young racing prospects.

Medians at Fasig-Tipton’s bellwether July select sale and at the tony Arqana Deauville auction held steady with last year’s figures of $60,000 and 65,000 euros (about $79,950), respectively, and median figures climbed at the regional-oriented Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company summer, Fasig-Tipton New York-bred preferred, and Fasig-Tipton Texas August sales.

Fasig-Tipton’s upmarket Saratoga select sale was a notable exception as the $225,000 median was down 10 percent, but on the bright side sellers pointed to a vigorous aftermarket for announced buybacks and to a diverse buying population at the business’s most expensive level. And although they often appear to be scaling back their purchase numbers, yearling-to-juvenile resellers are coming off a season in which most of the major boutique juvenile auctions saw increased medians – an indication that resellers will continue to reinvest, most likely in the middle market. Still, in spite of these positive signs, the yearling market so far has proven perilously selective for yearlings as indicated by high session buyback rates.

Other trends that could affect buying this year include New York’s dramatic purse increases since the advent of Aqueduct’s slot machines, offset somewhat by concerns over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans for the New York Racing Association board; uncertainty about Ontario’s racing industry in light of the provincial government’s decision to drop the slots-at-racetracks program; and the continuing influence of international buyers in the middle market, thanks partly to sales companies’ long-term overseas cultivation efforts.

The September sale will stream live at www.keeneland.com.