09/26/2015 4:31PM

Keeneland September: New sale format reveals steady yearling market

Keeneland photo
A Tapit colt sold for $2.1 million on Sept. 16 to top this year's Keeneland September yearling sale.

The 2015 renewal of the Keeneland September yearling sale took a new path to arrive at essentially the same place.

Figures remained in step with the past two renewals despite a somewhat reformatted schedule to kick off the auction, with highlights including an increased number of six-figure transactions and once again tying the sale-record median.

“Last year, we wanted a good, solid sale and I think we needed another good, solid sale in 2015, and that’s how it turned out,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales.

A total of 2,745 yearlings changed hands during the 2015 Keeneland September sale for revenues of $281,496,100, marking the seventh-highest gross of all-time. It marked a 1 percent increase from last year’s 13-day sale, when 2,819 yearlings brought $279,960,500.

The average sale price finished at $102,549, its third-highest point in the auction’s history, rising 3 percent from $99,312. The median finished at $50,000, tying the record established in 2013 and matched last year.

The buyback rate closed at 24 percent, up slightly from the final figure of 22 percent in 2014.

At the top of the market, 11 horses sold for seven figures, trailing last year’s total by two. However, the 69 yearlings to bring $500,000 or more bettered the 67 to do so last year.

At the next level, 312 horses brought $250,000 or more, which was a 7 percent improvement from the 291 to do so during last year’s renewal, while overall six-figure or better horses increased 5 percent from 858 to 900.

Further demonstrating the strength of the middle books was the performance of two offerings in Book 3 who outsold the most expensive horse of Book 2, including a $975,000 Curlin filly, who became the most expensive horses sold in that part of the sale since the Johannesburg colt Sawtooth Mountain brought $1 million in 2007.

“We saw this year, probably more than we’ve seen, a lot of people stretching to get horses,” Russell said. “There was more money for a premium horse this year.

“You always hear about horses ‘checking the boxes’ and ‘going through all the hoops,’” he continued. “These horses are evaluated very deeply, and when people find one they like, they’re willing to stretch, and I think that carried over into Books 2 and 3.”

The 12-day auction was the first under a new format condensing the select Book 1 from four days to three and moving the sale’s traditional ‘dark day’ from Friday to Thursday, in an effort to create a greater critical mass in the select sessions and generate more interest in the later books. Russell said he was pleased with the outcome.

“When we had four days, it seemed to slow the anticipation of buying and the momentum, and I think having it three days, people just kept going, and you could always feel it moving,” he said. “Seeing high-priced horses all the way through Book 3, having those two horses go for a lot of money, that’s a by-product of all that.”

Mandy Pope of Whisper Hill Farm dug in to secure a Tapit colt for $2.1 million following a prolonged bidding war to top the sale, with the purchase coming during the third session on Sept. 16. The colt was consigned by Gainesway, as agent.

Pope came away with the colt following a long run of bidding that ended with her and the trio of Kaleem Shah, trainer Bob Baffert, and Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm’s John Sikura facing off. After a long pause in the action, Shah upped his bid to $2 million, making the colt the lone offering of the sale to reach that bar. Pope quickly counter-punched with a $2.1-million bid that closed the deal.

"I thought he was one of the nicest colts in the sale, and being by Tapit moved him up," said Pope, who last year bought this colt's full sister, Tapping Colors, for $700,000. "He has a gorgeous stride on him, lovely hip and shoulder, great attitude. I bought his full sister last year for $700,000. She hasn't made it to the races yet, but she's going to. I'm all-in on that family.”

The colt is out of the Mr. Greeley mare Silver Colors, whose only foal to race is a winner. The mare was produced by Winning Colors, one of only three fillies to ever win the Kentucky Derby. Winning Colors went on to a solid career as a broodmare, producing stakes-placed winners Golden Colors and Ocean Colors. Golden Colors and another daughter, Stormin Winnie, are both stakes producers in their own right.

Pope said she had no plans as to who will train the colt, who will head to Florida in the immediate future.

"That's a long way down the road," she said. "Anything can happen, but he'll have a good trainer, obviously. He'll go to Whisper Hill Farm and have some turnout for a few months and get broke, and then go to GoldMark Farm for his training, and we'll figure out when he's ready to go to the races and who to send him to. They're in charge. They tell us when they're ready to go to the track, so we leave it up to the horse."

John Ferguson, bloodstock adviser for Sheikh Mohammed Al-Maktoum, was the sale’s leading buyer for the second consecutive year and the 13th time overall, with 24 purchases totaling $8,235,000. The group was led by a War Front colt out of the Grade 2-winning Arch mare Bauble Queen, who hammered for $900,000.

Taylor Made Sales Agency topped the auction’s consignors by gross for the 17th time, and for the 10th time in the last 12 years, with 256 yearlings sold for a combined $32,822,200. Yearlings consigned by the Nicholasville, Ky. operation comprised 12 percent of the Keeneland September sale’s total revenues, led by sale’s third-highest-priced offering, a Distorted Humor colt out of the Grade 2-winning Unbridled’s Song mare Forest Music, who sold to Three Chimneys Farm for $1.525 million.

Man O War Farm was the auction’s leading consignor by average sale price aming those with three or more sold, with three yearlings bringing an average price of $1,115,000. The most expensive horse handled by the Lexington, Ky. consignment was a colt from the highly-anticipated first crop of Frankel, who sold to Nawara Stud for $500,000.

Gainesway resident Tapit was the sale’s leading sire by gross for the fourth consecutive renewal, with 32 yearlings sold for $16,860,000, including the sale’s two most expensive offerings.

War Front finished as the leading sire by average sale price among those with three or more sold, with 21 horses sold for an average price of $600,714. The resident of Claiborne farm accounted for seven of the auction’s top 15 offerings by price.

Book 6 of the Keeneland September sale posted fairly even figures with the closing sessions of the 2014 sale.

A total of 386 horses sold over sessions 11 and 12 for $4,535,800, down 0.07 percent from last year’s Book 6, comprising days 12 and 13, when 377 horses brought $4,539,000.

The average sale price fell 2 percent over comparable sessions from $12,040 to $11,750, and the median increased 14 percent from $7,000 to $8,000. The buyback rate fell from 19 percent to 15 percent.

Book 6 was topped by a colt from the first crop of The Factor, who sold to George Bolton for $170,000.

The bay colt is the first foal out of the placed Distorted Humor mare Elite Humor, whose extended family includes champion sprinter Gold Beauty, Grade 2 winner The Prime Minister and Grade 3 winner Buffum.

Jody and Michelle Huckabay’s Elm Tree Farm bred the colt in Kentucky and consigned him as agent. The colt’s price easily surpassed the most expensive offering of last year’s sixth book, a $120,000 Fort Prado colt.

Saturday’s closing session saw 170 horses sold for revenues of $1,518,800, down 20 percent from the final session of last year’s Book 6, when 178 yearlings brought $1,913,300. The average sale price fell 17 percent from $10,749 to $8,934, while the median rose 17 percent from $6,000 to $7,000. The final day’s buyback rate rose from 16 percent to 17 percent.

Sparks View Farm purchased the session-topper a $65,000 Stormy Atlantic filly out of the winning Elusive Quality mare Pleasant Quality.

Bred in Kentucky by Jerry Jamgotchian and named Bluesky Banker Bob, the filly is a sibling to three winners from four runners and comes from the family of Grade 3 winner Gleam of Hope. She was offered as a weanling at last year’s Keeneland November breeding stock sale, but finished under her reserve with a final bid of $10,000.

Taylor Made Sales Agency consigned the session-topping filly, as agent, on Saturday.

Select Sales led the consignors of Saturday’s session by gross, with 23 horses sold for $203,300. The consignment handled the day’s second-most expensive offering, a $45,000 Colonel John colt who sold to Sawyer Cattle Company.

Sparks View Farm was the session’s leading buyer, with four purchases totaling $86,000, including the high-priced Stormy Atlantic filly.

WinStar Farm resident Colonel John topped the day’s sires by gross, with seven yearlings bringing $104,500. First-crop sire Hansen, who stood at Ashford Stud before being relocated to Korea, led the session by average (three or more sold), with four horses bringing an average price of $15,500.

For hip-by-hip results from from Keeneland September, click here.

Keeneland September yearling sale final results

Year Sessions Sold Gross Average Median Buyback
2015 12 2,745 (-2%) $281,496,100 (+1%) $102,549 (+3%) $50,000 24%
2014 13 2,819 $279,960,500 $99,312 $50,000 22%