09/11/2012 3:40PM

Keeneland September: $550,000 Giant's Causeway colt tops early bidding

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Photo by Z/Keeneland
A Giant's Causeway colt led the Tuesday session of Book 2 of the fall Keeneland Sale at $550,000.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – After a select session that produced five millionaire yearlings, Keeneland’s September yearling auction launched its three-day Book 2 section Tuesday in a more conservative market that had yet to threaten the million-dollar mark by 4 p.m.

Tuesday’s session, led at the time by a $550,000 Giant’s Causeway colt, appeared to be gathering momentum in its second half, and many of the bidders on hand for Monday’s select session remained on the grounds looking at horses. The watchword among many consignors was “realism” as they accustomed themselves to a smaller, more cautious buyer base to match Keeneland’s 20-percent smaller catalog.

Bidders still sparred over their top picks Tuesday, but a half-million was about as far as most were willing to go. The $550,000 Giant’s Causeway colt, a half-brother to Pomeroy, sold to heavy-hitter Ken Troutt’s Maverick Racing, and he was one of just two to reach $500,000 by late afternoon. The other was a $500,000 Tapit colt, a half-brother to group winner Quetsche, that Coolmore agent Demi O’Byrne bought. Gainesway, agent, consigned the session-leader, and Malibu Farm (Taylor Made, agent) sold the Tapit colt.

“The last couple of years, it’s been the feast-or-famine scenario, where if buyers aren’t on a horse, they’re absolutely not on it,” said consignor Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys Farm. “It seems like today, it’s not as bad as that. You’ll have one or two people on a horse, as compared to last year, when you might have nobody. It looks like horses are moving, and there’s a little bit more traction for the horses that, two years ago, would have had nothing. The great horses are selling just like the last couple of years, and the bad horses still probably won’t get bought. But now the middle horses that weren’t getting bought before are selling for a fair price.”

But the margins on profitable horses, Clay and others said, were slimmer than in pre-recession days. And not every consignor was striking a deal in the ring.

“I was really surprised today, because I saw a lot of good horses, and I have clients who tried to sell good horses, genuinely good horses with reasonable reserves on them, and they didn’t get sold,” said bloodstock adviser Marette O’Farrell. “That really shocked me. I have some clients who are buyers that all want to come in at the weekend, because they believe the bargains are later. But Book 2 is a smaller catalog. Maybe some of those buyers need to rethink and come in early.

“There’s a ceiling on the top-level horse now,” she added. “It’s a new era.”

On Monday, the auction’s single select session got things started on a positive note, at least at the market’s top. Five yearlings brought seven figures, led by the $1.65 million session-topping Distorted Humor colt that Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum’s Shadwell Estate Co. bought.

Keeneland reformatted the select session this year, trimming it from two nights to one evening session, making year-to-year-comparisons inexact. But the $403,867 average price was up 14 percent from last season’s two-night Book 1 total of $353,488. And Monday’s $350,000 median easily topped last year’s two-night median of $300,000, rising 17 percent. Overall, the one-day Book 1 session sold 75 yearlings for $30,290,000. Last year, the two-night Book 1 sold 129 yearlings for $45,600,000. Monday’s buy-backs were 34 percent, up slightly from last season’s 32-percent rate for both nights of Book 1.

Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s usual agent, John Ferguson, didn’t sign a ticket Monday, but Sheikh Mohammed’s brother Hamdan – bidding out of sight from a private Keeneland office up the hill from the sale pavilion – took up the slack, spending $3.8 million for four yearlings. Monday’s session-topper, a son of Grade 1 winner Mushka, was one of two horses Sheikh Hamdan bought by Distorted Humor. The other was an $850,000 half-brother to 2011’s champion juvenile filly, My Miss Aurelia. Eaton Sales, agent, sold the session-topper, and Stonestreet Thoroughbreds (Gainesway, agent), sold the $850,000 colt.

Monday’s most expensive filly was a $1.3 million Smart Strike half-sister to Bodemeister that Audley Farm (Brookdale Farm, agent) sold to John Sikura and Bruce Lunsford. Other Monday millionaires were a $1.05 million War Front-Gold Vault colt, a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Contested, that Adele Dilschneider and partners bought from Claiborne Farm, agent; a $1 million Street Cry-Tizso colt that Maribeth and Chuck Sandford bought from the Taylor made agency; and a $1.1 million A. P. Indy-Moonlight Sonata filly from A. P. Indy’s last crop that Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm bought from Mill Ridge, agent.

A. P. Indy’s last Keeneland September select yearlings grossed $3.6 million for six sales, for a $600,000 average price and a median of $637,500. A. P. Indy also sired two of the night’s notable buy-backs. His son of Lady Lochinvar, a full brother to graded-winning millionaire and current sire Master Command, returned to sellers Mr. and Mrs. Larry D. Williams on a $975,000 final bid. And a daughter of the stakes-placed Fasliyev mare Lacadena was a $725,000 buy-back from Denali Stud’s agency.

Tuesday also featured two of the last A. P. Indys. The first, a filly out of stakes-winner Private Gift, by Unbridled, was a $575,000 buy-back for Mt. Brilliant Farm. The other, a half-sister to graded winner Classic Elegance and to the dam of Kentucky Oaks winner Believe You Can, had yet to sell. The remaining four A. P. Indys were to sell later this week, also during Book 2.

On Tuesday, million-dollar days seemed distant. But the most bottom-line-conscious buyers, the speculative horsemen who purchase yearlings to resell at spring juvenile sales, said Tuesday that they still found it hard to stretch their budgets to buy some of their top picks.

“I was underbidder one time, but most of the time they’ve been going right on past me,” said Hoby Kight, who has a resale operation with his wife Layna. “Which is good for the business. No bargains yet.”

But Kight was hopeful that a softer price would line up with a nice horse eventually.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, and they’re gonna fall in my lap,” he said with a smile. “They always do.”

Kight said he planned to stay for week two, but he might face some stiff competition for horses then, too.

“I can almost guarantee you this weekend will be strong,” said bloodstock advisor O’Farrell. “Everyone is going to descend on this place: trainers, owners, a whole new set of people. I think those horses will make more money, relative to their pedigree, than what we’re seeing today.”