09/09/2011 1:48PM

Keeneland September sale surrounded by uncertainty

Keeneland/Coady Photography
Early arrivals get a peek at some of the yearlings who will be in the opening-night auction Sunday at the Keeneland September sale.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – As the two-week Keeneland September yearling sale neared its Sunday opening in Lexington, the big questions are whether the market’s upper crust can continue Saratoga’s buoyant performance and whether the stock market’s recent gyrations will chill bidders, particularly those in the middle and lower markets.

In 2010, the Keeneland September auction sold 3,059 yearlings for $198,254,900, up 3 percent despite a smaller catalog. The $64,810 average was up 7 percent, and median gained 14 percent.

This year, Keeneland has cataloged a smaller group of yearlings – 4,319 – thanks mainly to a shrinking Thoroughbred foal crop. That should help supply close a gap with demand, unless demand drops. Earlier yearling sales have provided positive news for sellers that there are still willing buyers. Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga select sale, heavily supported by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum and associates, enjoyed significant gains in average (16 percent) and median (4 percent). Prices for New York-breds at Fasig-Tipton’s New York-bred preferred sale also were up, and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s August sale posted strong increases in both its select and open sessions. Overseas, Arqana’s reformatted flagship Deauville select sale also performed well.

“One message we can take is that there is still strong interest in top-quality horses, and we believe we have a lot of top-quality yearlings,” said Keeneland’s director of sales, Geoffrey Russell.

Keeneland’s September sale is the first major test of the general market, and wider economic concerns – including recent large swings in the stock market – could prove more of a factor there. International bidders can take up some of that slack. Bidding from Australia and Japan has been strong in recent years. Persian Gulf states other than Dubai also could be poised for action, and Russian buyers could be in a position to step up their investments, Russell added.

For the catalog’s 70 New York-breds, the October debut of gaming machines at Aqueduct could also provide a lift for the middle market as buyers invest in runners they feel have a chance at richer slots-backed earnings. Russell said he hopes optimism over fatter New York racing Association purses will also inspire buyers seeking non-New York-breds for open racing in the Empire State.

This year, the two select days alone have more than 75 yearlings who are closely related to Grade or Group 1 performers. A number of these come from a pair of noteworthy dispersals, that of the late Edward P. “Ned” Evans’s Spring Hill Farm and the late Saud bin Khaled’s Palides Investments. Spring Hill’s 2011 yearling crop features a full brother to Quality Road (Hip No. 183), a Medaglia d’Oro half-brother to Malibu Prayer (68), and a full brother to Christmas Kid (158), among other well-connected youngsters.

A Khaled consignment headliner is Hip No. 55, a Street Sense half-sister to recent Alabama winner Royal Delta. Khaled’s dispersal also includes an Arch half-brother to Lear’s Princess (103).

Other yearlings of note include a three-quarters-brother to Zenyatta, a Street Cry colt out of Balance (147); the colt’s A. P. Indy half-brother, Mr. Besilu, topped last year’s auction at $4.2 million when bought by Benjamin Leon Jr. Street Cry also has a half-brother to 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor (106) and a half-brother to War Chant (72).

The select portion of the sale also features a full brother to English Channel (39), a full sister to Stardom Bound (94), a half-sister to Point Given (133), half-brothers to Sweet Catomine (15) and Proud Spell (201), sons of Maryfield (192) and Proud Spell (207), and a daughters of Folklore (170) and Fleet Indian (62). There are also first foals out of Dream Rush (165) and Zaftig (139).

Among half-siblings to U. S. classic winners are a Tapit half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird (194) and a half-brother to Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones by first-crop sire Henrythenavigator (74). Other sires with their first yearlings are by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, dual classic winner Big Brown, sprint champion Midnight Lute, and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass.

The September sale will run Sunday through Sept. 24, with a dark day on Sept. 16. Book 1 will consist of two evening sessions, totaling 211 yearlings, that take place Sept. 11-12 at 7 p.m. Book 2, consisting of 935 yearlings cataloged in alphabetical order by dam, will run Sept. 13-15, with sessions starting at 11 a.m. After the Sept. 16 dark day, Book 3 runs Sept. 17-24, with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.

The auction will stream live on Keeneland’s website at www.keeneland.com, and HRTV will present live broadcasts of the select sessions hosted by Caton Bredar and Jill Byrne.