The world-renowned Keeneland September Sale has been a long time coming this year. With the coronavirus pandemic canceling and postponing much of the sales season, all eyes are on Lexington this week as Keeneland hosts its first live in-person auction since COVID-19 first hit American shores. Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell joined the TDN Writers’ Room podcast presented by Keeneland Wednesday as the Green Group Guest of the Week to discuss the obstacles faced by the company in conducting the sale and his early impressions of the trading.
“We’ve been fortunate that we are pretty much the only sales company in the world that has conducted the sale on the calendar that we set in January, which we actually find quite amazing,” Russell said. “We’ve been planning for it since we went into lockdown Mar. 16 and each plan changed monthly. We didn’t know what we were allowed to do, what we weren’t allowed to do. At one stage, we were told we couldn’t use the sales pavilion. Now we’re allowed to use it at 40%. It has been a moving target all the way along. We joked back in the early part of the pandemic, our internal Zoom calls were called the ‘what if?’ meetings. What if this happens, what if that happens, what can we do here?”
The sale has gone off without a hitch through the first several hundred hips, however, and considering the circumstances, results have been robust, with 14 seven-figure horses changing hands in the first two days.
“The top of the market has been very strong,” Russell said. “We’ve had 14 individual horses bring in excess of $1 million and, most interestingly, to 13 different buyers. So the buying group has spread out a bit and the numbers at the top end are staying the same.”
Keeneland has been proactive about instating strict COVID-19 protocols for both its sales and racing seasons, which Russell admits has gotten some mixed responses but says is necessary to get through this extraordinarily busy couple of months for the company and the business as a whole.
“COVID has been a very polarizing situation, but we are very concerned about this time of year,” he said. “We have September, we have our October race meet, we have the Breeders’ Cup in November and we have our November Breeding Stock Sale. It’s a very important three months for us and for the Thorougbred industry. We wanted to make sure that we could conduct all of those and we work very diligently with our state government and local health departments. We have pushback form several people about masks, about the fact that we ask for testing on our consignors. But when you explain to them why we want it, for the safety of everybody, everybody understands it. While they’re not happy about it, they’re at least fulfilling our requests.”
Elsewhere on the show, in the West Point Thoroughbreds news segment, the writers lamented the fall of the Betfair exchange in America and analyze why it didn’t work out. Plus, they discuss the scary situation of wildfires raging near Santa Anita, react to the announcement of no fans being allowed at the Breeders’ Cup and pay tribute to the late Pat Smullen. Click here to watch the podcast, click here for the audio-only version.