09/23/2017 2:13PM

Keeneland September: Bellwether yearling auction concludes record renewal

Keeneland photo
A Tapit filly who is a full sister to Grade 1 winner Cupid sold to Coolmore for $2.7 million during the revamped Book 1 portion to lead the Keeneland September yearling sale, which concluded with record returns.

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.

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 when 2,792 horses sold for $272,890,500. This was the first time the auction's gross exceeded $300 million since 2008, when the effects of the recession were felt later in the sale. The following year, Keeneland September grossed $191.8 million, and has climbed back uphill from there.

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,” Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales operations, said. “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’s figure of $97,740. The previous record average came in 2006, when the number landed at $112,427.

Also reaching a record high was the median, which finished at $57,000, a 43-percent improvement over $40,000 in 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 compared with 27 percent last year.

At the top of the market, 13 horses changed hands at the seven-figure level, making it the first time the September sale has hit that threshold since 2014. Nine horses surpassed that mark last year. Eight of the million-plus offerings came in the single-session Book 1, and the remaining five sold over the course of Book 2.

Displaying strength through other tiers of the market, horses sold for $500,000 or more rose to 119 from 93, while horses sold for $250,000 or more numbered 352 compared to 302. Total six-figure purchases grew to 940 from 821.

Coolmore, a regular heavy hitter at the Keeneland September sale, landed the sale topper, with M.V. Magnier signing on a full sister to the partnership’s Grade 1 winner Cupid for $2.7 million.

The hammer price tied her for the ninth-highest price commanded by a filly in Keeneland September history, and it made her the most expensive filly at the sale since Chimayo sold to Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings for $3.1 million in 2008.

The Tapit filly is out of the Grade 2-placed Beau Genius mare Pretty ‘n Smart, whose eight foals to race are all winners, led by Cupid, Grade 3 winners Heart Ashley and Ashley’s Kitty, and stakes winner Indianapolis.

Dream Team, a full brother to this sale topper, 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. The latter has gone on to win four graded stakes for trainer Bob Baffert, highlighted by the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita earlier this year.

"We talked to Bob Baffert over the last couple of weeks, and he says there's a lot to come for Cupid over the next couple months, and we could have a fun winter with him," Magnier said. "She's a very well-bred filly, she's very good-looking, and let's hope she's anything as good as he was."

The filly was bred in Kentucky by Turner Breeders, a partnership whose broodmares are managed by Olin Gentry. She was consigned by VanMeter-Gentry Sales, as agent.

"We knew she was very popular, sort of a collectors’ item,” Tom VanMeter said. “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,” he continued. “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."

Coolmore was one of several international operations who made an impact at the top of the market. Of the auction’s 13 horses sold for $1 million or more, eight went to buyers who have a major presence outside the U.S.

However, Russell noted that the international interest carried through the entire sale, measured by the number of buyers who paid a $750 fee to have their horses tested for anabolic steroids and other banned substances pursuant to the rules of the British Horseracing Authority. The tests not only cover horses being exported to Great Britain, but countries with similar drug policies including France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Sweden.

“We can gauge [international interest] through the BHA tests we do, and it’s a record number this year,” Russell said. “It’s a cross-section, too. It’s not just the major buyers of Coolmore, Shadwell, and Darley. It’s across European pinhookers, trainers, individual owners.”

Competition remained strong heading into the auction’s second week. Several end-user buyers known for shopping in the auction’s first books stuck around into the middle and later sessions, spiking competition in an area where pinhook buyers often step in to propel trade.

“This is a really tough sale,” Ben Glass, bloodstock agent for Gary and Mary West, said during the ninth session. “Everybody finds the same good ones.

“Jody Huckabay [of consignor Elm Tree Farm] told me [the middle of the second week], 'I can't believe it, you're still here?'” Glass continued. “He said tons of people who are never here are still here looking. We all got our brains beat out in Book 1 and 2, so everybody's still looking."

While the auction produced all-time figures, the density of the first two books, especially Book 2, produced a logistical challenge for some buyers – especially those with small inspection teams – due to the horses in Book 2 being spread throughout most of the Keeneland grounds to facilitate horse traffic shipping in and out of the facility, instead of lumping each session’s offerings in one segment of the property.

“I think it was very challenging to get around and see all the horses,” bloodstock agent Mike Ryan said. “When you’ve got horses for three days from Barn 15 to 49, it’s a whole lot of back and forth, and I think the horses on the first day [of Book 2] suffered a bit. By the third day, people had gotten to see everything, and it was really strong on Thursday [the third and final session of Book 2].

“It’s very challenging to get to see them all, and those kind of horses, you need to see them two or three times,” he continued. “It’s a really high concentration of quality and you’re trying to get it right.”

The late Scat Daddy was the sale’s leading sire by gross, with 51 horses sold for $17,045,000, including two that sold for $1 million or more. It was the final crop of yearlings for the former Ashford Stud resident, who died of a suspected cardiac event in December 2015 at age 11. His most expensive offering was a $1.1-million colt who sold to Magnier to top Book 2.

"It was a lot of money, but sadly, as you know, we lost Scat Daddy a couple years ago,” Magnier said. “It's probably one of the biggest losses we've ever experienced, but we're looking to have another Caravaggio [a Group 1 winning Scat Daddy colt campaigned by Coolmore] to follow in his footsteps.”

Although he was dethroned as leading sire by gross after leading that category five consecutive years, perennial commercial powerhouse Tapit finished as the leading sire by average sale price, with 17 yearlings commanding an average of $950,000. The resident of Gainesway is a three-time Keeneland September leader by sire average, among those with three or more sold, also topping the list in 2016 and 2014. This year’s yearlings are Tapit’s first conceived on his $300,000 stud fee, the highest in North America.

Taylor Made Sales Agency was the auction’s leading consignor by gross 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. The colt is from the immediate family of Horse of the Year Saint Liam and multiple Grade 1 winner Gun Runner.

“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.”

VanMeter-Gentry Sales Agency was the leading consignor by average among those with three or more sold, moving 18 horses for an average of $343,500, led by the sale topper.

Sheikh Hamdan Al-Maktoum’s Shadwell Estate Co. Ltd. was this year’s leading buyer overall, with 17 purchases totaling $12,475,000. Leading the way was the sale’s third-highest-priced offering, a $2.5-million Tapit colt out of Grade 1 winner Tiz Miz Sue.

Book 6 closes with relative strength

After dragging the cumulative figures to declines last year, Book 6 of the Keeneland September sale finished strong in 2017, showing across-the-board gains in the auction’s lowest market.

The two days of Book 6 saw a combined 294 horses sold for $3,579,700, marking a 42 percent gain from last year’s two-day closing book, when 315 horses sold for $2,526,000. This year’s Book 6 comprised sessions 11 and 12, while last year’s were days 12 and 13.

The average sale price for Book 6 rose 52 percent to $12,176 from $8,022, while the median jumped 114 percent to $7,500 from $3,500. The buyback rate landed at a pristine 9 percent against 27 percent during last year’s comparable sessions.

One horse sold for six figures during the auction’s last two days, after the comparable 2016 segment failed to produce a horse to pass that point. Horses sold for $50,000 or more rose to nine from four, while the number sold for $25,000 or more grew to 43 from 23.

The most expensive horse of Book 6 came during Friday’s opening session, when John Brocklebank, as agent for R 3 Stable, bought a Gio Ponti filly out of Meadowlake mare Lac Du Printemps, for $115,000. She sold as property of Penn Sales.

Saturday’s closing session kept solid activity through to the auction’s conclusion, with 135 horses sold for $1,467,800. The gross showed a 42 percent growth from the second session of last year’s Book 6, day 13, when 147 horses sold for $1,036,600.

The average sale price spiked 54 percent to $10,873 from $7,052, while the median increased 119 percent to $7,000 from $3,200. The buyback rate closed at an astounding 8 percent compared with 24 percent during last year’s final session.

Shortleaf Stable bought the session topper, a Take Charge Indy colt out of the unplaced Indian Charlie mare Croon, for $85,000.

The dark bay or brown colt is a sibling to two winners from two runners out of Croon, including Grade 2-placed Laney. Grade 1 winner Buzz My Bell is in the extended family.

Dede McGehee’s Heaven Trees Farm bred the colt and consigned him as agent. McGehee bought Croon in foal to Data Link for $40,000 at the 2014 Keeneland November breeding stock sale.

Take Charge Indy, who previously stood at WinStar Farm before being exported to Korea, was the session’s leading sire by gross, with three sold for $96,500 including the session-topper. He was also the leading sire by average among those with three or more sold, at $32,167.

Taylor Made Sales Agency was the top consignor by gross, with 18 horses sold for $137,400. The most expensive offering was a $35,000 colt from the first crop of Can the Man who sold to Stanley Dunn.

John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stable’s lone purchase of the session-topper was enough to make the operation Saturday’s leading buyer.

For hip-by-hip results, click here.

-- additional reporting by Nicole Russo

Keeneland September, final results

Year Sold Gross Average Median Buyback
2017 2,555 $307,845,400 (+13%) $120,487 (+23%) $57,000 (+43%) 25%
2016 2,792 $272,890,500 $97,740 $40,000 27%

Keeneland September, top 20 purchases

Price Pedigree Buyer Consignor
$2,700,000 filly by Tapit - Pretty 'n Smart, by Beau Genius M.V. Magnier VanMeter-Gentry Sales, agent
$2,600,000 colt by Tapit - Miss Besilu, by Medaglia d'Oro Whisper Hill Farm Taylor Made Sales, agent
$2,500,000 colt by Tapit - Tiz Miz Sue, by Tiznow Shadwell Estate Co. Paramount Sales, agent
$1,900,000 colt by War Front - Iotapa, by Afleet Alex Donato Lanni, agent Taylor Made Sales, agent
$1,600,000 filly by War Front - Aloof, by Galileo OXO Equine Timber Town Stables, agent
$1,250,000 filly by Medaglia d'Oro - Sealy Hill, by Point Given OXO Equine Gainesway, agent
$1,200,000 colt by War Front - Theyskens' Theory, by Bernardini Shadwell Estate Co. Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services, agent
$1,100,000 colt by War Front - Dynamic Feature, by Rahy Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock VanMeter-Gentry Sales, agent
$1,100,000 colt by Scat Daddy - Orchard Beach, by Tapit M.V. Magnier Anderson Farms, agent
$1,000,000 colt by Quality Road - Storm Minstrel, by Storm Cat White Birch Farm and M.V. Magnier Indian Creek, agent
$1,000,000 colt by Orb - Tally Ho Dixie, by Dixieland Band Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock and Eric Fein Dromoland Farm, agent
$1,000,000 filly by Tapit - Believe You Can, by Proud Citizen Don Alberto Corp. Brereton C. Jones/Airdrie Stud
$1,000,000 filly by Scat Daddy - Beloveda, by Ghostzapper Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock Gainesway, agent
$975,000 colt by Will Take Charge - Oblige, by Bernardini Willis Horton Elm Tree Farm, agent
$950,000 colt by Scat Daddy - Miss Lamour, by Mr. Greeley Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock Gainesway, agent
$900,000 colt by Hard Spun - Azorina, by Empire Maker Mayberry Farm Gainesway, agent
$900,000 colt by Medaglia d'Oro - D'cats Meow, by D'wildcat Breeze Easy LLC Eaton Sales, agent
$900,000 colt by Speightstown - Devil by Design, by Medaglia d'Oro Shadwell Estate Co. Glennwood Farm, agent
$900,000 colt by Cairo Prince - Kittery Point, by Include Shadwell Estate Co. Brereton C. Jones/Airdrie Stud
$900,000 colt by Tapit - Comedy, by Theatrical Eric Fein Denali Stud, agent

Keeneland September, leading sires by gross

Stallion Number sold Gross
Scat Daddy 51 $17,045,000
Tapit 17 $16,150,000
Pioneerof the Nile 40 $13,482,000
Medaglia d'Oro 32 $12,535,000
Curlin 37 $11,595,000
War Front 15 $11,550,000
Into Mischief 54 $9,349,000
Uncle Mo 40 $9,003,000
Candy Ride 39 $8,386,000
Speightstown 29 $7,737,000

Keeneland September, leading sires by average (three or more sold)

Stallion Number sold Average price
Tapit 17 $950,000
War Front 15 $770,000
Medaglia d'Oro 32 $391,719
Pioneerof the Nile 40 $337,050
Scat Daddy 51 $334,216
Curlin 37 $313,378
Speightstown 29 $266,793
Giant's Causeway 22 $247,908
Ghostzapper 24 $229,667
Distorted Humor 28 $227,000

Keeneland September, leading consignors by gross

Consignor Number sold Gross
Taylor Made Sales Agency 270 $38,679,400
Lane's End Farm 154 $21,594,700
Gainesway 118 $21,562,500
Paramount Sales 111 $13,201,400
Denali Stud 79 $12,862,000

Keeneland September, leading consignors by average (three or more sold)

Consignor Number sold Average price
VanMeter-Gentry Sales Agency 18 $343,500
Havens Bloodstock Agency 3 $313,333
Clearsky Farms 7 $272,857
Betz Thoroughbreds 13 $272,462
Anderson Farms 10 $267,100

Keeneland September, leading buyers by gross

Buyer Number purchased Gross
Shadwell Estate Co. 17 $12,475,000
Mike Ryan, agent 44 $11,470,000
Godolphin 17 $8,065,000
M.V. Magnier 10 $7,160,000
Ben Glass, agent 24 $4,990,000