09/14/2015 7:31PM

Keeneland September: War Front trio leads improved opening session

Keeneland photo
A War Front filly out of Betterbetterbetter sold to Shadwell Farm for $1.45 million to lead the opening session of the Keeneland September yearling sale.

The opening session of the 2015 Keeneland September yearling sale posted steady gains under a slightly tweaked format, led by a trio of high-priced offerings by War Front, on Monday in Lexington, Ky.

This year’s renewal introduced a condensed Book 1 format, in which the select sessions were cut from four days to three with more horses offered each day. Because of the new setup, the figures for the select sessions will not be directly comparable from year-to-year on a gross level, but the quality of horses on offer remains similar to last year’s first book.

A total of 150 yearlings changed hands during Monday’s session for revenues of $44,642,000, up 35 percent from last year’s sale-opener, when 120 horses brought $33,165,000.

The average sale price rose 8 percent from $276,375 to $297,613, and the median also increased 8 percent from $245,000 to $265,000. The buyback rate finished at 31 percent, up from last year’s opening-day figure of 28 percent.

:: KEENELAND SEPTEMBER: Complete coverage from DRF Breeding ::

“The buyback rate ticked up a bit, but everything else was very positive,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales. “It was a good session from start to finish with a good cross-section of buyers, and that’s what we always look at. It was very active bidding from all sides.

“We always talk about with Book 1, these are horses that are highly prized, and they’re highly prized by their owners, so they’re not afraid to race them,” Russell continued. “They’re just as selective themselves.”

Two horses sold for seven-figure prices on Monday, matching the number to do so during last year’s opening session. Nineteen offerings sold for $500,000 or more, bettering the 12 that met or exceeded that total in the first session of the 2014 sale.

A filly by popular commercial sire War Front topped the session, selling to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Farm for $1.45 million.

The filly is the first foal out of the Irish Group 3-placed Galileo mare Betterbetterbetter, who made headlines in November 2013 when she topped the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky fall selected mixed sale, going to Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm for $5.2 million. The filly was consigned as agent by Timber Town Farm, which boards Pope's mares in Lexington.

"She'll probably go to England, but I don't know. It'll be up to Sheikh Hamdan," Shadwell manager Rick Nichols said of the new purchase. "I think he could go either way with her. He likes to see them run, and he can do that easier in England than he can do here. She's awfully pretty. He might want her pretty close to keep an eye on her."

Betterbetterbetter is a half sister to Irish classic winner Yesterday and fellow Group 1 winner Quarter Moon. She is also a half sister to two group stakes placed fillies.

Betterbetterbetter was part of a major upgrade of Pope’s broodmare band a few years ago, as she also acquired Horse of the Year Havre de Grace for $10 million at the 2012 Fasig-Tipton November sale, Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, whose first foal sells on Wednesday, for $4.2 million at the 2012 Keeneland November sale, and champion Groupie Doll for $3.1 million at the 2013 Keeneland sale. Pope planned to sell some of the resulting foals from those star mares in order to recoup some of the purchase prices.

"Of the big mares that I bought, I was going to keep Havre de Grace's Tapit," Pope said. "The other one is Plum Pretty's, who is in this sale, and then there was this one. This mare unfortunately did not get back into foal, so she was barren. She's back in foal to Tapit. I needed to sell some to recoup the money that I put into this. Obviously, the easiest way to do it would have been to sell the filly out of Havre de Grace, but I wasn't going to do that."

Pope was pleased to see international connections land Betterbetterbetter's filly.

"She needs to go to England, and I don't race in England," Pope said. "That was a big part of [selling the filly]. She needed to be in different hands than mine. Plans can always change but she's a very international family and grass is going to be her thing, I'm sure, just like the rest of her family, and I think she's in the best of hands. Hopefully she'll be a superstar over there."

The session-topper led a charge of three top-priced yearlings sired by War Front in the span of about 20 offerings, which also included a $1-million filly out of the Mr. Greeley mare Azzedine who sold to Shel Evans, and a $900,000 colt out of the Grade 2-winning Arch mare Bauble Queen who went to John Ferguson, bloodstock adviser for Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum’s Godolphin operation. Not surprisingly, War Front was the session’s leading sire by gross and average sale price, with seven yearlings sold for $5,155,000 and an average price of $736,429.

Taylor Made Sales Agency finished Monday’s session as the leading consignor by gross, with 27 horses sold for $8,695,000. The Nicholasville, Ky.-based operation sold three of the session’s top 10 offerings, led by a More Than Ready colt out of the Group 3-placed Distorted Humor mare Baffled, who sold to Ferguson for $750,000. The colt is a half brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Constitution and Grade 3 winner Jarcanda.

Ferguson led the session’s buyers overall, with six purchases totaling $6.3 million.

Book 1 of the Keeneland September sale continues through Wednesday, with sessions beginning each day at 11 a.m. Eastern. After Thursday’s traditional “dark day,” the sale then continues through Sept. 26, with sessions beginning each day at 10 a.m.

To view hip-by-hip results from Monday's opening session, click here.

Keeneland September yearling sale, session 1 results

Year Sold Gross Average Median Buyback
2015 150 (+25%) $44,642,000 (+35%) $297,613 (+8%) $265,000 (+8%) 31%
2014 120 $33,165,000 $276,375 $245,000 28%