09/11/2015 3:05PM

Keeneland September: Sale enters on solid footing

Keeneland/Coady Photography
The Keeneland September yearling sale runs from Sept. 14 through Sept. 26.

Though the format has been tweaked slightly, the 2015 edition of the Keeneland September yearling sale looks much like the one that it preceded.

Once again, the 12-day sale will start after a record-setting juvenile sales season and a run of solid performances from the earlier yearling sales on the calendar. The catalog even maintained a head count close to the 2014 edition, which produced similar returns to the 2013 sale.

Based on auction activity earlier this year, the broad middle market of the vast Keeneland sale should be expected to produce solid returns for consignors. The North American bloodstock market looks like it has hit its cruising altitude after a half-decade of rapid ascension and that bodes well for a sale that has more than 4,000 yearlings cataloged.

“I like a steady market,” said Duncan Taylor of consignor Taylor Made Sales Agency. “You can plan for it. When you have a great yearling sale and the stud fees soar, you start to have that snowball effect, and then there’s always a crash at some point in time. I like to see, if [the market] rises, it isn’t a meteoric rise. With fewer horses being bred, you should see some rise, even if it’s staying even, so if it’s up 5 or 10 percent, that would be good.”

This year’s Keeneland September sale will be held Sept. 14-26 in Lexington, Ky., with the first three sessions that comprise Book 1 beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern, followed by the sale’s “dark day” this Thursday.

Sessions then continue daily at 10 a.m., with Book 2 being held Friday and Saturday and Books 3 through 6 rounding out the sale Sept. 20-26.

The catalog features 4,164 yearlings, almost identical in size to last year’s catalog of 4,181.

“This is the time of year, every year, that we all get excited about,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “This is the culmination of 2 1/2 years for breeders to bring their horses to market. It’s a very exciting time, it’s a very anxious time. The September sale is one that I always look forward to because of that. We hope we’re able to reward them.”

The most noticeable change to this year’s sale will be the reformatted select sessions of Book 1, which have been consolidated from four days to three, with the subsequent dark day moved up to Thursday from its previous spot on Friday. Select sessions also will start an hour earlier than under the previous format.

The four-day select format lasted two years, closely mirroring the model of major European sales, after Keeneland previously hosted a highly boutique Book 1 with a handful of offerings over a single session.

Russell said the plan to shorten up Book 1 was sparked during last year’s select portion when activity in the barn area took a noticeable drop during the book’s fourth and final session.

“It isn’t an exact science trying to work out the exact format of this sale,” Russell said. “We want to make sure there is a critical mass of horses for buyers at each level of the market, and I think this might work the best. For both stabling purposes and momentum purposes, we should be good.”

Changes to the format were cemented over the summer during conversations with breeders and consignors at yearling inspections. The new schedule was well received by many heading up to the sale.

“The buyers don’t want to wait around until noon [for the session to start],” said Michael Hernon of Gainesway. “They want to get into the action.

“There will be more continuity in the market, there will be more synergy, and we’ll move the dark day up by a day, which will allow the Europeans who traveled over to see more horses in Book 2 and leave bids behind,” he added. “It makes all kinds of sense to go to three days. The fourth day had become sort of a stepchild, if you will. It was an afterthought. People were mentally moving on to Book 2. Now they’re not going to do that. While they will see Book 2 while they’re still here, they’re going to be more focused on a daily basis as they go through the sale.”

While the Keeneland September sale is one of the primary indicators of the North American bloodstock market’s overall health, it is also a large supplier of runners around the world, from major jurisdictions to emerging markets.

This year’s sale also features a particularly international flavor in the yearlings on offer, led by five yearlings from the high-profile first crop of undefeated European Horse of the Year Frankel. Not surprisingly, they are all cataloged in Book 1 and will be the stallion’s first foals offered at a North American auction. 

“We consider this to be the international marketplace, and we want to have good cross sections of all horses, domestic and international, for all the buyers in the world to come here,” Russell said. “Frankel’s is probably the most anticipated first crop of yearlings, if not ever, at least in the last 20 years. It’s very exciting to have the opportunity to present yearlings by him.”

The Keeneland property has undergone significant renovations over the summer to prepare for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup, which has meant construction projects across the grounds. However, Russell said any work that had the potential to get in the way of the sale proceedings or inspections will be completed before the sale.

“It won’t have any effect at all,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of parking for everybody.”

Last year’s Keeneland September sale displayed a solid, steady marketplace, with 2,819 yearlings selling over 13 sessions for a combined $279,960,500, down 0.2 percent from the 2013 sale. The average sale price declined 3 percent to $99,312, still fifth-best in the auction’s history, while the median tied the record price of $50,000 established during the 2013 renewal.

Last year, 13 horses sold for seven figures each, compared with 18 in 2013.

“Last year’s September sale showed very good, solid returns, which is what we were looking for, both here at Keeneland and also the industry as a whole,” Russell said. “We had two very strong years, and we needed a good, solid year to lay the foundation down for the industry, and I think we accomplished that last year.”

A pair of colts topped the 2014 sale at $2.2 million each.

M.V. Magnier, representing the Coolmore partnership, signed the ticket on a War Front colt out of the winning Arch mare Gold Vault, the dam of multiple Grade 1 winner Contested and Grade 2-placed stakes winner Mosler. Now named Air Vice Marshal, the colt is Group 2-placed in England.

Mohaymen, a Tapit colt out of the multiple Grade 2-winning Dixie Union mare Justwhistledixie, sold to Shadwell Stables. The half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and young sire New Year’s Day has been working toward his first start while based in New York.

To view the online catalog, click here.

Sept. 14-16, 11 a.m. Eastern (Book 1); Sept. 18-26, 10 a.m. (Books 2-6)
WHERE: Keeneland sales pavilion, 4201 Versailles Rd., Lexington, KY 40510
PHONE: (859) 254-3412
CATALOG: The sale has 4,164 horses, down 0.4 percent compared with 4,181 cataloged last year.
RECENT HISTORY: The 2014 sale posted results very similar to 2013 when selling 2,819 horses for a total of $279,960,500 (down 0.2 percent), an average price of $99,312 (down 3 percent), and tied a record median of $50,000 (no change). Two yearlings were purchased for a sale-topping $2.2 million. M.V. Magnier bought a War Front colt out of Gold Vault consigned by Claiborne Farm, agent, and Shadwell Estate Co. purchased a Tapit colt out of Justwhistledixie consigned by Clearsky Farms, agent. The War Front colt was later named Air Vice Marshal and is Group 2-placed in England, and the Tapit colt was named Mohaymen and is unraced.
INTERNET: Live streaming at www.keeneland.com