By Jessica Martini
LEXINGTON, KY – Keeneland's 13-session September Yearling sale begins Monday with an adjusted format and upbeat outlook, but with a slightly delayed start time. The auction will begin at 1 p.m., two hours later than originally planned, during its first four sessions after heavy rains delayed inspections Sunday.
The weather was the story of the day Sunday at the Keeneland sales barns as the second full day of showing was impeded by heavy rains as the remnants of tropical storm Gordon trekked through the Lexington area.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do about the weather,” said Hunter Valley Farm's Adrian Regan as the rain cascaded outside Barn 27. “It's unfortunate for everyone, sales company, consignors, buyers, and it has definitely slowed traffic this morning. But buyers are showing plenty of determination out there and they are still shopping.”
Hunter Simms of Warrendale Sales agreed that, after a day of busy showing Saturday, the action had definitely slowed down Sunday.
“The weather hasn't been helpful and we've had to hold some shows in the barn,” Simms said. “I think buyers have been slow to make it from barn to barn because of the weather–they just don't want to walk outside because they'll get soaked. Saturday was our first day of showing and it was good. We showed over 1,200 times for the 19 horses that we had. So we were very busy all day. I think people had an outlook on the weather and knew there was some potential rain and knocked a lot of it out yesterday.”
In announcing the two-hour delayed start time early Sunday afternoon, Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said, “We want to give buyers sufficient time to inspect the horses in Book 1. The current heavy rain is making their work today extremely difficult and putting them behind schedule to review Book 1, which has cataloged 989 horses. This revised start time will allow them to catch up.”
The marathon September auction comes on the heels of a record-setting renewal in 2017, and similarly strong returns at last month's Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale, as well as the Fasig-Tipton July Yearling Sale.
“As our sales team travels all over the U.S., and around the world for that matter, we try to get a gauge of what's that pocketbook feeling like? Are folks stepping up their share of wallet for the September sale? It certainly feels that way,” said Elliston. “Not only at the top end, if you're allocating five or six million dollars for a $500,000, $750,000, or million-dollar yearling–we're also seeing the $200,000 budgets turn into $350,000 and $400,000 and I think that will lead into Books 2, 3, 4, even into 5 for that matter.”
While last year's sale featured just one extra-select Book 1 session, the 2018 auction will consist of four Book 1 sessions with a total of 989 yearlings catalogued. Books 1 and 2 last year contained 1202 offerings. Followed by a dark day Friday, each remaining session will begin at 10:00 a.m. A total of 4,538 yearlings are catalogued for the largest auction in the world of its kind.
Consignors were taking a wait-and-see approach to the tweaked format of the September sale, but there was agreement that the expanded Book 1 had already attracted plenty of foot traffic to the sales barns.
“I've yet to make up my mind totally about the new format,” Regan said. “But the one thing I would say about it right now is that it has definitely brought a lot of people to town. Showing has been very, very strong throughout the weekend. The traffic, European, Japanese and Americans, is very strong.”
Of the action at his Four Star Sales barns, Kerry Cauthen said, “It's been very good–very steady and solid, but not overrun. There are a lot of horses here on the grounds, so buyers are obviously all across the grounds, which keeps it from getting jammed up in one place. I think all of the right people, and some definite new faces, are here and people seem to be excited to get into action.”
While buyers dealt with the logistics of seeing close to 1,000 horses spread from one side of the Keeneland sales grounds to the other, the four-day Book 1 brought plenty of faces through Warrendale's barn 24.
“There is a broad spectrum of buyers here and it allows people to shop at all different levels,” Simms said of the format. “I don't know if the buyers necessarily like being spread out from one side of the grounds to the other with some vacant barns in between, but I think it's just something that everyone has to work with Keeneland and figure it out. They'll figure it out and tweak it so everyone is happy with it.”
Simms is expecting a strong marketplace at Keeneland over the next two weeks.
“July and Saratoga were both healthy sales with lots of money floating around,” he said. “I think everybody seems to be here shopping, so I think it should be a good sale. There is a horse for everybody here.”
While maintaining some caution, Cauthen also expects a healthy marketplace.
“It's hard when you see such nice animals and so many impressive pedigrees to not get a little carried away,” Cauthen said. “But my job is to always say, 'Keep your feet on the ground and let the market decide.' But I would tell you that I think the market is going to be very solid and that it will be very active.”
Last year's sale was topped by a $2.7-million Tapit full-sister to GISW Cupid. Consigned by VanMeter-Gentry Sales, Agent XI as hip 69, she was signed for by Coolmore's M.V. Magnier. The same consignment will offer a half-sister by American Pharoah this year as hip 306, while Clarkland Farm will offer a half-brother by Medaglia d'Oro to the 2016 September topper, the $3-million Mendelssohn (Scat Daddy), who was also purchased by Magnier, as hip 120.
A total of $307.8 million changed hands 12 months ago at a record average of $120,487 (+23.3% year over year) and median of $57,000 (+42.5%). The RNA rate was 25.2%. Thirteen youngsters eclipsed the $1-million mark, with 119 bringing $500,000 or more.
Among the long list of Keeneland September grads to go on to graded glory this year was none other than undefeated 'TDN Rising Star' and Triple Crown winner Justify (Scat Daddy), who was purchased at the 2016 September sale for $500,000. Last year's champion juvenile Good Magic (Curlin), second to Justify in the GI Kentucky Derby, cost $1 million at the same sale. Both horses will have half-siblings go through the sales ring at Keeneland this week, with Glennwood Farm offering a Will Take Charge colt out of Justify's dam Stage Magic (Ghostzapper) as hip 443 and Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency offering a half-sister by Super Saver to Good Magic as hip 957.
The sale's standout graduates are not limited to the early books, Elliston was quick to point out.
“Let's not forget, the [GI Kentucky] Oaks winner, Monomoy Girl (Tapizar),” said Elliston of the $100,000 acquisition, who is a perfect four-for-four this term with additional wins in the GI Ashland S., GI Acorn S. and GI Coaching Club American Oaks. “There are quality animals at reasonable prices, if you want to call $100,000 a reasonable price. It sounds pretty reasonable when you go on to win in excess of million dollars in three Grade Is.”
Super sires Tapit (97 catalogued) and War Front (34 catalogued) have dominated headlines in recent renewals of the September sale, but there's a new big name on the block this year in Bob Baffert's other Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. The 2015 Horse of the Year saw his first-crop weanlings last year bring an average of $446,250–2.75 times the next freshman sire–and his 15 yearlings to sell so far this year have averaged $643,605. The Coolmore resident has 81 yearlings catalogued at Keeneland September and is part of a very strong crop overall of freshman sires.
“He covered a really nice book of mares, and our inspection team suggests that he's stamping them with his capability, or at least his conformation in terms of how they look; they look exceptional,” Elliston said of American Pharoah. “They were very well-bred by Coolmore and the folks that had those mares, and let's keep that average he's been putting up in place. I think his best offerings are going to come here in these 81, and we are very excited to get it going with Hip 1.”
The September catalogue also features several horses with graded stakes updates. Four Star Sales will offer a Verrazano half-sister to recent GI Del Mar Debutante winner Bellafina (Quality Road) as hip 621, while Paramount Sales offers a Cairo Prince half-brother to GII Best Pal S. winner Instagrand (Into Mischief) as hip 663.
“It was great timing,” Regan said of Qurbaan's graded stakes success at Saratoga. “And the 2-year-old [Dull Knife] won first time out in France and has been sold to race over here. The Munnings out of that mare is very, very nice. It definitely doesn't go unnoticed to have an update like that.”
Warrendale Sales has a pair of yearlings with graded stakes updates waiting in the wings at September; hip 2634 is a Cross Traffic half-sister to recent GI Test S. runner-up Mia Mischief (Into Mischief) and hip 1666 is a half-brother by Lea to Dream Tree (Uncle Mo) who returned to take the GII Prioress S. last weekend.
“We've got some good updates that are coming and some good updates in Book 1,” Simms said. “We're happy with our consigment, top to bottom.”