03/05/2010 12:00AM

Keeneland September to begin at night

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Keeneland's September yearling auction, the largest Thoroughbred sale in the world, will begin this year with two nighttime select sessions as part of a new format the auction house revealed Friday.

The auction, slated to begin Sept. 12, will open Sunday instead of the traditional Monday start. The first two sessions, the select portion of the sale, will offer a total of about 200 horses, roughly half what the opening two days of the September auction has cataloged in recent years.

There will be a dark day after the first six days of the auction, putting the dark day on Saturday, Sept. 18, instead of the usual Friday. Keeneland expects to sell a total of about 1,300 yearlings from Tuesday, Sept. 14, through Friday, Sept. 17, offering about 325 horses a day in a single Book 2 catalog.

The auction's remaining open sessions will begin Sunday, Sept. 19. Sales director Geoffrey Russell said that the tentative ending date for the auction is Sept. 25 but that ultimately would be decided by the number of nominations.

"This format will allow us to have more product in front of the larger professional buyers before we have our dark day," Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said. "We know the buyers will like that and have heard from the consignors that they'll like that as well."

Nicholson said one goal under the new format was to create "a less hurried, less havoc kind of atmosphere" for both buyers and sellers. Russell added that buyers and consignors polled in the last several years had suggested the marathon September sale left little time for detailed viewing, socializing, and other business. The new evening sessions are designed to elevate what auctioneer Ryan Mahan called "emotion, drama, and pace" to the sale's select session.

Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga select sale and the now-defunct Keeneland July select sale both have conducted night sessions to add glamour to their auctions. Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga auction still takes place at night, but Keeneland has not conducted a July sale since 2002. Nicholson said it was unlikely that auction would return to the calendar.

Keeneland would have implemented the changes in 2009 but postponed them in light of the economic crisis and collapse in Thoroughbred prices, Nicholson said.

In a statement, Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association chairman Mark Taylor of Taylor Made Sales said: "We are hopeful that this new format will bring energy and excitement while keeping in place the continuous flow of buyers from around the globe which has made this sale such a great resource for our industry."

Nicholson said Keeneland also would redouble marketing efforts to recruit "a deeper buying bench both domestically and internationally for horse sales," including developing new initiatives to bring first-time domestic owners into the game.

Last year's Keeneland September sale, hampered by a stagnant economy and yearling oversupply, suffered steep losses. Gross fell 41 percent, average fell 36 percent, and median plummeted 45 percent.