By Bill Oppenheim
For the last four years, the Keeneland September Sale finished with between 2,744-2,819 yearlings sold, for gross revenues of $280.4m, $279.9m, $281.5m, and $272.8m last year, when the number catalogued jumped by 300 from 2015. But the number sold increased by just 47, meaning the overall clearance rate from those catalogued had dipped to 62.3% last year, having been between 66%-70% the previous three years. The number catalogued at Keeneland is back down to 4,138 this year (4,164 in 2015; 4,181 in 2014), but the way we are going to get from day one to day 12 is going to be a lot different. For the last two years, Keeneland September Book 1 has been a three-day sale, though the number catalogued dropped from 724 in 2015 to 607 last year, resulting in a $14-million drop in the Book 1 gross (though the Book 1 average did rise from $303,072 in 2015 to $347,471 last year), when 117 fewer yearlings (16%) were catalogued and 97 fewer yearlings (22%) were sold. Wherever it all ends up, we’re going to get there a different way than the last couple of years, so session-to-session comparisons are likely to be very tricky for the first week.
Fasig-Tipton jumps into an open spot with their inaugural Turf Showcase sale Sunday, Sept. 10, with 171 catalogued. Keeneland then opens as usual on Monday, which this year falls on Sept. 11, with Book 1 cataloguing just 167 yearlings for a session which will begin at 3 p.m. Then we have a three-day Book 2, 345 or 346 catalogued per day with an 11 a.m. start, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with the dark day moving back to Friday after two years of a dark Thursday. After that, it will be more familiar, starting with Book 3 on Saturday-Sunday, when around 400 a day are catalogued with a 10 a.m. kickoff.
In 2015, there were 1,530 catalogued in Keeneland’s first five days. The number dropped to 1,407 last year, even as the number for the whole sale was up over 300 horses. This year there are 1,373 catalogued for the first five days of selling, though this time the first 171 will be at Fasig, while Keeneland’s four days of Book 1 and Book 2 horses see 1,202 yearlings catalogued. In 2015 the 443 yearlings sold in Book 1 (of 724 catalogued) brought 47% of the entire sale’s gross; in 2016 the 346 yearlings sold (of 607 catalogued) accounted for 44% of the sale’s gross. At the end of the first five days of selling the last two years (with 200-300 more catalogued), around 70% of the sale’s eventual gross had been realized. As you can imagine, we don’t feel exactly confident about making projections, but our sense is a gross in the neighborhood of $175 million, with around 700 selling for an average around $250,000 for Keeneland Books 1 and 2 combined (not including Fasig) would be realistic targets.
Ultimately, though, sales averages are an awful lot about the sires. Though it’s not strictly comparable, we went back and looked at a table we ran last year of sires’ averages in Keeneland Books 1-3. There are two sires, Tapit and War Front, who averaged over $600,000 each, and another seven sires–Speightstown, Medaglia d’Oro, Pioneerof the Nile, Curlin, Scat Daddy, Malibu Moon, and Uncle Mo–who averaged over $240,000 each. We’re going to throw in Candy Ride, who is having a career year, headlined by Gun Runner and Mastery (who still might have been the best 3-year-old to race in North America this year). These 10 sires are represented by 463 yearlings catalogued in Keeneland Books 1-2, and another nine at Fasig-Tipton. The 463 account for 38% of the yearlings catalogued in Keeneland first two books–call it three out of eight. Using a global estimate of 60% selling from those catalogued, if Tapit and War Front average $600,000 and the other eight sires average $250,000 we could project a gross of $85 million for those 10 sires, which would be about half of the $175 million we’re projecting for Books 1-2. So, primarily as an exercise against which we’ll have something to measure results, we’ll be looking for Tapit and War Front to average $600,000; the other eight sires mentioned to average $250,000; and everything else, by all other sires in Books 1-2, to average $200,000. The 10 top sires mentioned, by the way, do have another 131 yearlings catalogued in the later books.
Only War Front, with 33 catalogued in Books 1-2 and one at Fasig, is not among the 10 sires with 40 or more catalogued between Fasig and Books 1-2. It’s the last crop by Scat Daddy, and the breeders are giving the buyers plenty of opportunities to buy one, as there are 71 catalogued in the first five days of selling–five at Fasig, 11 in Keeneland Book 1, and 55 in Keeneland Book 2 (he has another 17 catalogued in the ‘back books’, for a total of 88). Pioneerof the Nile has 53, 11 in Book 1 and 42 in Book 2, and Medaglia d’Oro has 51, consisting of two at Fasig, 16 in Book 1, and 33 in Book 2. Curlin and Speightstown have 47 and 46 catalogued, respectively, over the first five days, all at Keeneland, while also with 47 is Declaration of War, the first freshman sire to have two black-type winners this year; he has 13 in the Fasig sale, four in Book 1, and 30 in Book 2. Malibu Moon has 44 catalogued (one at Fasig), Uncle Mo 43 (none at Fasig, but another 30 in Books 3-6), Candy Ride 42 (plus 20 later), and Tapit 41 (plus three later).
War Front (25) and Tapit (23), not surprisingly, have the greatest representation in Keeneland Book 1, and in fact account for almost 30% between them of those catalogued for Monday’s sale. Medaglia d’Oro has 16 in Monday, Scat Daddy and Pioneerof the Nile 11 each, Candy Ride nine, and Speightstown eight. In the Fasig Turf sale, Spendthrift’s Temple City has the biggest representation, with 18. Declaration of War and Lane’s End’s first-crop full-brother to Frankel, Noble Mission, have 13 each. Kitten’s Joy, English Channel, Coolmore Ashford’s first-crop son of Galileo, Magician, and Claiborne’s Data Link, like Declaration of War a son of War Front with his first 2-year-olds this year, have seven each at Fasig.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
It’s been tough sledding for some of last year’s top 3-year-olds this year. Almanzor, from the first small crop by Wootton Bassett, was hands down Europe’s top 3-year-old colt of 2016. But he was hit by the virus in trainer Rouget’s yard, was a shadow of his former self at Deauville last week, and has subsequently been retired. Arrogate, who marched through four Grade I wins in the Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, the inaugural Pegasus, and Dubai World Cup, running Beyers of 122-120-119, Timeform 134 and scooping up somewhere in the neighbourhood of $16.8 million in four races, has been a shadow of his former self since coming back from Dubai. And even So Mi Dar, Lord Lloyd-Webber’s filly by Dubawi out of Dar Re Mi, who was injured after winning last year’s G3 Musidora S. and becoming favorite for the G1 Epsom Oaks last year, has struggled to find her form since, including in two races this year. Rouget, Baffert, and Gosden are among the top 10 trainers in the world, so if they can’t get them back, well, it just shows how tough it can be. But here’s what’s important to remember: Almanzor was the best 3-year-old colt in Europe in 2016; Arrogate really did win four consecutive Grade I races with Beyers of 119+; and So Mi Dar really is a Group 1 filly who has never won one. News flash: this is a tough game.