by Brian DiDonato & Katie Ritz
Regally bred 3-year-old filly Trapezium (Hard Spun) (hip 26) topped Keeneland's first-ever digital auction, the Select Horses of Racing Age sale, Tuesday on a winning bid of $327,000 from Vinnie Viola's St. Elias Stables. A Gulfstream maiden special weight runner-up in February, the granddaughter of blue hen Toussaud was consigned by her owner/breeder, Juddmonte Farms, Inc. The Juddmonte draft was responsible for four or the sale's top five lots at the close of trade.
“The successful launch of the Digital Sales Ring marks a milestone in Keeneland's storied auction history because it enables us to deliver another high-quality sales option to our clients,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “This sale met the needs of the market by providing buyers, as tracks reopen around the country, the opportunity to purchase proven, ready-made racehorses from top-flight consignors.”
The sale grossed $829,500 for 12 horses, at an average of $69,125 and a median of $32,750.
With buyers and sellers still figuring out the nuances of a digital sale, 19 of the 31 offerings failed to meet their reserves or sell immediately after trade had closed, including 2-year-old debut winner Queen Arella (Speightster) (hip 475), who RNA'd for $475,000.
While all three horses consigned by Niall Brennan Stables were initially bought back, sophomore filly Eloquent Speaker (Flatter) (hip 35) was subsequently purchased by Anthony Mitola for $200,000 and recorded in the final results as sold to be the day's second topper. The New York-bred, co-owned by Brennan and Mike Ryan, broke her maiden second out for trainer Jeremiah Englehart at Belmont June 12.
“Since the sale, we've sold one of our three, and we've had three or four calls on each of them,” Brennan said. “I think some people had trouble navigating the process. It's the first time we've done this and it's a little different. Even when you went online and the instructions were quite specific, I think people were caught off guard thinking they could just hop online and bid. They didn't realize they had to register and then go back and get credit even if they've bought with Keeneland before. They didn't realize they had to re-establish credit. There's no live bidding, which we're used to. Even if you're on the phone at a live auction, you're listening and you're involved. But this time there's no auctioneer and it feels like a dead bid. So there may be some confusion, but it's the first time out of the box and I'm sure Keeneland and the buyers expected to iron out some kinks and for there to be a learning curve.”
Brennan added, “Our three horses were legitimate, and they vetted clean. The one sold, and she won last week at Belmont in a nice maiden race. She's a lovely filly and I hope the buyers have good luck with her. She's got stakes potential and she came out of the race really well. Jeremiah is really high on her. They can run her back at Saratoga if they want.”
“As far as the platform is concerned, I loved it,” said ELiTE's Brad Weisbord, who consigned $210,000 RNA Wondrwherecraigis (Munnings) (hip 30) and who said he also bid on another horse who RNA'd. “In the case of the one horse we consigned, we wanted to support the sale and try out the platform. We used our best clients who were willing to support our endeavor in doing that; we hand-selected a horse who we thought would really fit the model–he was two-for-two, and had fast speed figures… Anybody who called to discuss, I was very stern in saying that they're going to want $200,000 to $225,000 for the horse because they think he's a stakes horse. That was the messaging, and they didn't waver and we didn't waver. It seemed like there was live money in the $150,000 range, but for a horse who's two-for-two, I wouldn't let them sell him for that–even with decreased purses around.”
Weisbord added, “I think the main hurdle to navigate is that you still need to inspect these horses–we didn't have one inspection on Wondrwherecraigis. We did provide the X-rays to multiple trainers and owners, and we produced a vet report that we placed online, but I didn't think anyone would be giving $200,000-plus for a horse they didn't inspect… I think you need to determine if the horse's feet are in good condition; if their coat is in good condition; if they have any vices; how they train and gallop. That's the stuff that an inspection can take care of–I'm not as concerned about the actual vetting, because as long as everyone's being ethical, our vets can interpret X-rays, and if we need to ultrasound something we can do that or ask the consignor to do it. But, the inspection part is tough–especially with COVID. People don't want to travel, and if they do, they can't get on the backsides. So I think that's really going to hurt the online platform until COVID is over.”
Agent Nick Hines, who purchased 3-year-old colt Juror (Tapit) (hip 8) for $55,000 out of the Juddmonte consignment, also had positive impressions of the digital platform but experienced some of the same logistical hurdles mentioned by others.
“As far as making the credit request and getting set up to bid online, it was pretty seamless,” he said. “It was probably comparable to getting set up for the Keeneland September sale
–it was as easy as that. As far as the actual vetting and inspection process, however, the logistics were a bit tedious knowing that horses were in different locations, but it's still something new and I'm sure everyone will continue to figure it out. For the actual bidding online, I think we've all been eBay shoppers at some point, and it was pretty straightforward. The most difficult part in getting this done was having a vet in place and getting it done in a timely fashion. I think it's also probably prudent to know who you're buying from–as you would in any other market–and to ask questions.”
Hines said Juror, who was second on debut for trainer Chad Brown at Tampa Bay Downs June 1, would be sent to California to take advantage of Del Mar's “Ship and Win” program and that the additional $2,000 incentive announced for purchases made Tuesday added to the appeal of shopping the sale.
Juddmonte Draft Dominates
Trapezium (Hard Spun) was the major standout of the inaugural, all-online Keeneland Select Horses of Racing Age sale as the Juddmonte draft–many selling without reserve–dominated the market.
Bidders jumped at the chance to acquire a filly from the direct line of Juddmonte blue hen mare Toussaud (El Gran Senor). The bidding was almost to the $300,000 mark by half-past noon, and the virtual gavel stuck at $327,000 two hours later.
The sophomore filly is out of the unraced A.P. Indy mare Mesmeric and is a half-sister to the near-millionaire and three-time graded stakes winner Honorable Duty (Distorted Humor). Mesmeric is a daughter of 2002 Broodmare of the Year Toussaud, dam of four Grade I winners including late sires Empire Maker (Unbridled) and Chester House (Mr. Prospector) and Honest Lady (Seattle Slew), in turn the dam of GISW First Defence (Unbridled's Song).
“Juddmonte is obviously one of the most premier private breeding operations in the world. But what attracted us to her is that while most of their stock races on turf, this family is different in that it's primarily a dirt family with Empire Maker and Honest Lady and several other top dirt stakes winners,” said John Sparkman, bloodstock advisor to Viola.
Trapezium was eighth in her debut on the Gulfstream grass for Bill Mott Dec. 29, but earned a 76 Beyer Speed Figure when improving to be second in a similar spot Feb. 2. She has posted two published works this month at Juddmonte's Lexington farm.
“She's a filly from one of our very best families,” said Juddmonte General Manager Garrett O'Rourke. “There are many great horses in this family who have headlined for Prince Khalid over the years. It's a family that other breeders are very keen to try to access. When she was first placed in this catalogue, I wasn't sure how she might be received in a training sale. But any fears we might have had were quickly dispelled because by the time we got to last Friday, both my phone and Leif Aaron's phone were ringing, and even Bill Mott told us about the calls he was getting. It was good for us that she did stand out, but it was also indicative of how many people actually paid attention to this sale. Quite a few people came to see her at the farm and ask questions. My expectations were tempered by a fear for the market being down in these times, but the reality is that when you bring quality to the market, even in down times, people will still pay a premium.”
With the logistical hurdles of conducting a sale of horses spread out around the country, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the St. Elias team enlisted help inspecting its target.
“It was critical for us that since I couldn't be there, we were able to get Tom Evans from Trackside Farm to go to Juddmonte and take a look for us,” Sparkman said. “He gave us confidence that she was a nice mare. We're very excited to have her.”
Sparkman reported that Trapezium will be sent to Dr. Larry Bramlage for a thorough once-over before leaving Kentucky and heading to the barn of Todd Pletcher in New York.
“Hopefully we can win a race or two with her,” he said.
Sparkman also gave a nod to the online sales process, saying everything ran as planned.
“The sale seemed to go pretty much as predicted,” he said. “It was a smooth process for us and I thought it worked well. Her price was pretty much on the money for what we expected.”
Along with Trapezium, Juddmonte Farms consigned four other horses through the online sale, including a son and daughter of Into Mischief who each brought $65,000.
O'Rourke said that the success of Juddmonte's five-horse consignment fully exceeded his expectations.
“I think there's a learning curve for how a sale like this takes place,” he said. “There's a lot that we had to learn and I'm sure a lot that Keeneland had to learn as well. There might be things that we do better going forward, but I think it was a sale that was put together at a time when there was a necessity for a sale. Everybody latched onto it and learned how to use the portal readily.”
O'Rourke also said that in the future, Juddmonte's consignment will aim to make more information readily available for potential buyers.
“As time goes on, we will have to learn more about what buyers demand from these online sales,” he said. “We want to give them as much information as we can. We can do a better job in providing video of the horses and more editorial on what the horses are doing. We learned from the questions that were asked of us on the phone. If we have a description of why the horse hasn't worked in a while, why it was on a layoff, and maybe quotes from the trainers, all of these pieces of information can give the buyers confidence.”
Looking ahead, O'Rourke said he sees continued long-term potential for online sales because of the ease of use for end users located across the country and worldwide.
“Even if you aren't in town for the sale, you can still engage in a sale like this,” he said. “We spoke with people in New York and California. These sales enable end users to be able to engage from afar. I think that's going to be a huge advantage for online sales. If it means you can spread a larger net over your potential buyers and have more people engaged in the sale, then it's good. Overall, any commerce is good especially in times like these. I commend Keeneland for putting on this sale in short notice.”
He continued, “To be honest, I think people were having fun with it. We tried something new. Sometimes you do that and it doesn't work, but I definitely think this worked. It doesn't mean we have to do this every single month, but it's a very useful tool to fill in for specific types of horses at a time where there aren't major on-site sales.”