By Kelsey Riley
Book 1 of Keeneland's September Yearling Sale will be shortened to one night on Sept. 11, featuring approximately 200 yearlings, and will have a bonus scheme with a first-year pool of $750,000 attached to it, the sale company announced on Wednesday. The Book 1 Bonus will offer cash rewards to the owners and sellers of graduates who win a Grade/Group I race as a 2- or 3-year-old anywhere worldwide. Bonuses will be doubled for Grade I races won at Keeneland and for the GII Toyota Blue Grass S.
“The Book 1 Bonus was created to reward sellers and owners from the sales ring to the winner's circle,” said Keeneland President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Thomason. “Keeneland is committed to selling the best horses in the world in a setting unlike any other. This unique Book 1 Bonus, in concert with our changes to the Book 1 sale format, are an extension of Keeneland's mission to reinvest in the Thoroughbred industry and to promote excellence in the sport.”
Keeneland September Book 2 will catalogue 1,050 yearlings over three days, Sept. 12 to 14, with 350 to sell each day. Friday, Sept. 15 will be a dark day and selling will continue Sept. 16 through 23.
The Book 1 Bonus pool will be $750,000 in 2018, and will increase to $1.5-million for 2019 and each year thereafter. Rewards will be capped at $500,000 per horse and excess funds not paid out will carry over into the next year's pool. Sixty percent of the bonus will be paid to the seller and 40% awarded to the owner except in the instance that the horse wins a Grade I at Keeneland; in that case, 60% will go to the owner and 40% to the seller.
For instance, if three Book 1 graduates win Grade/Group I races in 2018 they will split the bonus and receive $250,000 per horse. If one horse wins, it will receive the $500,000 cap and the remaining $250,000 will be carried over into the 2019 pools. If three horses each win a Grade/Group 1 race and one is at Keeneland, the Keeneland winner will receive $375,000 (the equivalent of two bonuses) and the others will receive $187,500 each. Graduates of Keeneland's Book 1 in 2014 won seven Grade/Group I races worldwide through their 2- and 3-year-old campaigns in 2015 and 2016.
Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales was on hand at Keeneland for the announcement, and he praised the initiative.
“I think it's great any time sales companies are putting money back into the business and trying to help the owners,” he said. “Keeneland keeps giving back and I think a lot of people don't realize that; they try to do everything first-class and treat everybody the same. It's great the way they've thought this through; it's not just one race that someone wins and gets all the money. Many people can benefit if they come here and buy top horses. I think it's a win-win.”
While bonuses put on by other sales companies worldwide are tied to a race series restricted to sales graduates or to specific maiden races, Keeneland's Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said the precedent set by Keeneland's Book 1 graduates prompted them to reward graduates at the highest level.
“When we look at Book 1 and what's been accomplished by the horses that have come out of Book 1 in the past; those horses coming out of Keeneland Book 1 last year won more Grade Is than the other sales companies in North America combined,” he said. “To pay a maiden win for horses coming out of that sale seems understated–it doesn't seem to reward the level of accomplishment that we expect and the world expects when you buy a horse in Book 1.”
Elliston said that when Keeneland began devising the scheme after last year's September Sale, rewarding the seller of the horse as well as the new owner was always a priority.
“We're fortunate to have some of the most accomplished breeders in the world within 30 miles of us and that's a big deal too, to raise one from birth to going through that sales ring and then to win a Grade I,” he said. That deserves recognition too.”
Thomason added, “The stallion investments people have made in Central Kentucky, the mares that they bring here; we have a unique partnership with all those breeders here at Keeneland, from the time they entrust us with their horses to be sold and for us investing in the engine that creates value for those horses with our racecourse. That unique relationship we have with our partners allows us the opportunity to make sure we're celebrating and rewarding both those groups.”
Taylor said he thinks the challenge facing Keeneland “is to get the right 200 horses and get the sellers to agree that it's the right 200 horses.” Thomason said Keeneland would work with the sellers all through the spring and summer to ensure the right yearlings are chosen, and those considered will be heavily under the microscope.
“The process starts in mid May, when we start fanning out all over the country and all over the world with our selection team and recruitment team looking at these horses,” he explained. “This is a process we'll be going through all throughout the summer, looking and talking to our consignors, and we're doing some things to try to give everyone as long a period as we can to assess those horses so that we do everything within our power and our sellers' power to bring the best 200 to the market, and then know that on those next three days [of Book 2] we still have an incredible book of horses.”
Elliston, who pointed out that the selection team has a huge pool of quality to choose from, with 89 horses having sold in excess of $500,000 at Keeneland September last year, added, “These horses will be scrutinized, they'll be the cream of the crop and they'll be as bulletproof as they can be when they get into that ring. We're spending a good amount of time with the consignors who know those horses intimately to ensure we have a quality offering in that Book 1.”