By Bill Oppenheim
Finally the Keeneland September Sales got back over the $280-million mark at which it had been hovering the last four years, since the $60-million jump in 2013 marked the end of The Great Recession. Not only did it get over the $280-million hump, it sailed right past our early estimate of $300 million, finishing up with a gross of $307,845,000. This figure is well below the record for Keeneland September, which grossed $324.9 million in 2004, jumped to $384.3 million in 2005, peaked at $399,791,800 in 2006, dropped slightly to $385 million in 2007, then to just under $328-million in 2008 before crashing below $200 million in 2009. Of course those totals were from North American foal crops varying between 37,000-38,000, whereas the current foal crop is estimated to be 40% below those numbers, at around 22,500. In the 2004-2008 boom about 13%-14% of the foal crop was catalogued to Keeneland September; this year it's about 18% of the foal crop.
The sale did set new records for average ($120,487, a 23% rise from 2016 and 17% higher than the recent 2015 high-water mark of $102,549) and median ($57,000, 14% higher than the previous $50,000 record), for a total of 2,555 yearlings sold, which was 61.7% of the 4,139 catalogued. That number was 8% fewer than the 4,479 catalogued last year, and the number sold was 8% fewer than the 2,792 sold last year. The number catalogued was just about on a par with 2015 and 2016 (see Weekly Sales Ticker for details), though the number sold was still about 200 fewer than those two years. The clearance rate from the catalogue was 67.4% in 2014 and 65.9% in 2015, but fell to 62.3% last year, and 61.7% this year. As usual there was a big difference in the clearance rate between the two weeks: from 2013-15 the clearance rate from those catalogued in Week 1 was right around 64%, dropping to 57.7% last year and 56.7% this year. Week 2, by contrast, saw a tremendous 73.5% clearance rate from the catalogue in 2013, the first year of major recovery; still was at 69% and 67% in 2014-15, and dropped to 64.5% in 2016 and 63.8% this year. So the last two years the clearance rate from the catalogues has been roughly 8% higher the second week, emphasizing again the challenge of producing a Week 1 yearling, with their relatively much higher stud fees, which the market is willing to pay for.
Notwithstanding the challenge of producing a saleable Week 1 yearling–the difficulty of which should not for one second be underestimated, and which underlines the fragility of the overall profit margins for Week 1 breeders–the sale was extremely strong. Eight percent fewer yearlings catalogued and sold produced a $35-million increase over 2016, and almost exactly a 10% increase in gross from the 2013-2016 'benchmark' of $280-million. The overall average made a whopping 23% increase from last year, and 17% from the 'benchmark' 2015 average. Interestingly the biggest increases were markedly in the second week; even taking into account that 15% fewer horses were catalogued in Week 1 (1,202, or 205 fewer than last year's 1,407), there were also 4% fewer catalogued in Week 2, yet the gross was up $28-million, or 33%, from $83.3-million to $111.2-million, and the Week 2 average leapt by 41%, from $42,113 to $59,339.
At the conclusion of Keeneland September on Saturday, there were 40 North American stallions which have now averaged over $100,000, with 10 or more sold, at the 2017 yearling sales to date (click here for top 50 NA sires of yearlings by average). Gainesway's three-time leading sire Tapit, who had all three $2-million-plus yearlings in September, has had 21 yearlings sell now this year (60% of the 35 sent through the ring), for an average of $883,333, with Claiborne's War Front next, with 18 sold (56% of 32 through the ring), for an average of $733,624. Darley's Medaglia D'Oro, arguably North America's number three sire, has had 38 sell for an average of $411,216, while three others have averaged over $300,000 so far this year: WinStar's Pioneerof The Nile (43 sold, avg $345,511); Hill 'n' Dale's Curlin (also 43 sold, avg $330,697); and Coolmore Ashford's late, great Scat Daddy (67 sold, avg $329,634).
Thirteen sires from the five sire crops with first foals 2012-2016 figured among the top 40. The highest average among these belongs to Ashford's top F2013 sire, Uncle Mo, who has had 61 yearlings sell so far this year for an average of $255,549, over 10 times his 2015 (fourth-crop, often the lowest) stud fee of $25,000. He is the only sire with first 4-year-olds among the top 40, although Lane's End's Twirling Candy makes the top 50, with 37 yearlings averaging $79,743, nearly eight times his (lowest) 2015 fee of $10,000.
First-crop sires, as we know, are always popular: four of them have recorded six-figure averages thus far, with two more among the top 50. Three Chimneys' Will Take Charge has had 54 yearlings average $178,648 and retains his position as top of the crop, though narrowly over Airdrie's 'market darling' Cairo Prince, who has also had 54 yearlings sell, his for an average of $171,314. Both are Fappiano-line sires–Will Take Charge the 2013 champion 3-year-old male by Unbridled's Song, Cairo Prince the 2014 GII Holy Bull S. winner from Pioneerof The Nile's first crop. Ashford's Verrazano ranks third among first-year yearling sires (F2016, or first foals 2016), with 62 yearlings averaging $110,770, but he only narrowly captures that spot over Three Chimneys' Strong Mandate, whose 33 yearlings have averaged $109,354. Like Cairo Prince (since raised to $15,000, and could easily be pegged a bit higher for 2018), Strong Mandate stood his first season, in 2015, for $10,000, so is also accorded 'Market Darling' status. Same for WinStar's Fed Biz, who stood for $12,500 and has had 45 yearlings average $93,488. Noble Mission, Lane's End's full-brother to Frankel, has had 33 yearlings average $76,620 to also make the top 50.
Claiborne's Orb has also been a Market Darling from day one, and is one of three North American F2015 sires, with their first 2-year-olds, to average over $100,000; he's had 56 yearlings average $209,052, making him one of only 14 stallions to have averaged over $200,000 so far this year. Second among F2015 North American sires is Hill 'n' Dale's Violence, who has made a sparkling start at stud and has had 60 yearlings average $141,895, from 66 through the ring. This gives him a 91% clearance rate from those sent through the ring, highest among the current North American top 40.
Ashford's Declaration of War is another whose first 2-year-olds are showing plenty. He's had 44 yearlings average $114,131, and not too far behind him, Darley's Animal Kingdom, another off to a promising start, also makes the top 50, with 33 yearlings averaging $92,116 so far.
Among F2014 sires with their first 3-year-olds, Lane's End's Union Rags ranks highest, his 49 yearlings thus far averaging $149,469. Two young sires with Classic winners in their first crops also have six-figure averages: Hill 'n' Dale's Maclean's Music, sire of GI Preakness S. winner Cloud Computing and arguably already Distorted Humor's best son at stud, has had 20 yearlings average $145,575 off a mere $6,500 stud fee in 2015. And WinStar's Bodemeister, sire of GI Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, has had 49 average $119,285. Not far outside the top 50 are Darby Dan's pair of Dialed In (14, avg $74,607) and Shackleford (34, avg $74,114) and Airdrie's Creative Cause (22, avg $69,214), who has had four black-type winners in the last five weeks, including GIII Smarty Jones winner Pavel, who is due to make his next start in Grade I company.
Finally, two F2012 sires, with their first 5-year-olds racing this year, make the top 40: Lane's End's Quality Road, who has had 12 BTW (seven graded) this year, and has had 39 yearlings average $190,169; and WinStar's Super Saver, who had by far his best-bred crop of yearlings come to the market this year, and they looked the part, with 41 selling so far for an average of $133,682 and a median of $100,000. The market clearly thinks a Super Saver racetrack revival is impending.
With this I am signing off after over 800 columns in TDN over the past 17 years, beginning all the way back in 2000. Heartfelt thanks to all the TDN staffers, past and present, who have helped make it all happen. Above all I want to thank Sue Finley, the greatest editor I have ever worked with and one of the great contributors to this business. Also my thanks to the long-suffering Alan Carasso, who has had to wade through more of my paragraphs than anybody in history bar Sue; and, most recently, to Gary King, Kelsey Riley, and Heather Anderson. It's been a great run, and I am very grateful for everyone's help and support at TDN. Most of all, though, to my audience: to borrow a phrase from the fictional Frasier Crane, Thanks for Listening. I am not however riding off into the sunset, oh no, not yet! Stay tuned. Thank you.