By Jessica Martini
LEXINGTON, KY – During a businesslike session of steady bidding, and with six sessions still to come, the Keeneland September Yearling Sale surpassed the gross sales recorded during its 2017 renewal Monday in Lexington. Through seven days of selling, 1,433 yearlings have grossed $326,287,200. The cumulative average is $227,695 and the median is $150,000. The total gross of the 12-session sale a year ago was $307,845,400.
During Monday’s first of two Book 3 sessions, 289 yearlings sold for $22,360,500 for an average of $77,372 and a median of $55,000. A colt by Empire Maker (hip 2177) topped the session when selling for $450,000 to the partnership of Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias and Zayat Stables. The yearling, one of four to bring $400,000 or over on the day, was bred and consigned by Antony Beck’s Gainesway.
The September sale’s Books 1 and 2 were punctuated by contentious bidding and, while both buyers and sellers think the competition will continue throughout the week at Keeneland, they also expect the polarization of the marketplace which has become commonplace in recent years to become more pronounced in the auction’s later books.
“I think it’s more of the same,” Gainesway’s Michael Hernon said. “The market is strong for the desired horse and that is a horse who is well-conformed, correct and good moving and with the all-important vet report. That is critical to your success. There is polarization in the market and people are gravitating to that horse. I think the money is still here and there is still good buoyancy to the market. I am optimistic it will continue on because a lot of people are getting shut out.”
Bloodstock agent Liz Crow has been active throughout the sale and expects to find plenty of competition as those quality offerings become more sparse.
“I bought a lot [Sunday] because I felt like the quality of horse was going to drop off today,” Crow said. “I thought that the market was strong yesterday and it is continuing to be strong today for the right horse. So I think there is still plenty of money floating around for the right horse. The problem is the quality is dropping, so we are all landing on the same horses more often. I think it’s becoming a little bit harder to buy today versus yesterday because the quality was better yesterday.”
The Keeneland September sale continues through Sunday with sessions beginning daily at 10 a.m.
St. Elias, Zayat Team for Empire Maker Colt
They were mid-flight between Lexington and Newark when it happened, but Ahmed and Justin Zayat landed in New Jersey to the news that their family stable had successfully partnered with Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias to take home a son of Empire Maker for a session-topping $450,000 Monday at Keeneland.
“We love Empire Maker,” Ahmed Zayat said while waiting to deplane. “As you know, we campaigned Bodemeister and Pioneerof the Nile and Empire Maker’s the granddaddy of American Phaorah.”
The yearling (hip 2177) is out of Duke’s Dream (Mr. Greeley), a full-sister to Grade I winner Sweet Lulu and a half to graded stakes winners Anchor Down (Tapit) and Iron Fist (Tapit). He was consigned and bred by Gainesway.
“He looked the part,” Zayat said of the yearling. “He was very well-balanced, he had a great walk and a great pedigree. He’s the first foal of the dam. Everything was going for him.”
Gainesway also bred Duke’s Dream. The farm sold the mare for $450,000 at the 2010 Keeneland September sale. She was unplaced in four starts in 2012 and Gainesway reacquired her for $25,000 at the 2013 Keeneland January sale–seven months before Sweet Lulu captured the GI Test S.
The purchase of hip 2177 marks the first time the Zayats have teamed up with Viola.
“We became friendly with Viola and his team at the hotel, just chatting,” Zayat explained. “We mentioned we liked this Empire Maker and he said, ‘Let’s partner.’ We are looking forward to a great partnership.”
The Zayats have purchased seven yearlings at the September sale, led by an $800,000 son of their Triple Crown hero American Pharoah (hip 1558). Viola has purchased five yearlings so far. Among three purchased in partnership with Mike Repole was an $800,000 son of Empire Maker (hip 406) and $700,000 colts by Curlin (hip 672) and Candy Ride (Arg) (hip 619). St. Elias also partnered with West Point Thoroughbreds to acquire a colt by Honor Code (hip 549) for $500,000.
Medaglia d’Oro Filly to Fox Hill
Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farm enjoyed historic success with one daughter of Medaglia d’Oro in champion Songbird and the operation will be hoping to repeat the dose after purchasing a yearling by the Darley stallion for $400,000 during Monday’s seventh session of the Keeneland September sale.
“She is beautiful and she has a great pedigree,” Fox Hill’s Victoria Keith said after signing the ticket on hip 1873. “There is nothing to dislike about her.”
The gray filly is out of Lovely Regina (Deputy Minister) and she is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Thiskyhasnolimit (Sky Mesa). Her second dam is Cara Rafaela, who produced champion Bernardini. She was bred by Chester and Anne Price and Chris Baccari’s Seclusive Farm. Baccari purchased the mare, in foal to Flashback, for $370,000 at the 2015 Keeneland November sale.
“She’ll go to Bill Recio to be broken and then we’ll decide what trainer to send her to,” Keith said.
Keith, who said the filly’s final price tag was right where the team pegged it, added, “It’s always easier buying the further along you get in the sale. You get shut out in the early days, but hopefully you can find something in the later days. Which we did.”
Into Mischief Filly for Schwartz
Martin Schwartz added a filly by Into Mischief to his stable Monday at Keeneland when Bluewater Sales’ Ryder Finney signed the ticket at $400,000 on hip 1976. The yearling was consigned by Select Sales on behalf of breeder Machmer Hall.
“She had a ton of class,” Finney said of the bay filly. “She’s a big, powerful, strong mover. I really loved what she did when she got up to the back ring. She showed a lot of class, she wasn’t rattled by the situation, she just kept putting one foot in front of the other.”
The filly is out of stakes-placed Sca Doodle (Scat Daddy) and is from the family of turf champion Tepin and multiple graded stakes winners Disco Rico and Vyjack.
“I love that she is out of a Scat Daddy mare,” Finney said. “She had a lot of Scat Daddy about her.”
Of the final price, Finney added, “I expected to have to stretch a little bit. I would rather have been in the $300,000 range, but that’s where everybody was. So I had to reach a little bit further, but I’m very happy to get a lovely horse. For the good horses, you’re going to have to pay for them. And that’s the way it’s been out here from the beginning.”
Finney has been busy buying for Schwartz at the September sale. Hip 1976 is the fifth yearling he purchased for the owner who has had success importing Grade I winners like Zagora (Fr), Gorella (Fr) and Stacelita (Fr).
“He wants to win the big races,” Finney said of Schwartz, whose yearling purchases include four fillies and a Cairo Prince colt (hip 663) acquired for $450,000. “He wants to win Grade Is, whether it’s dirt or turf, it doesn’t really matter to him.”