By Jessica Martini
The Keeneland September Yearling Sale, which surpassed $400-million in gross sales for the first time in its history, concluded Saturday with new records, not just for turnover, but also for average and median and with 30 seven-figure yearlings doubling the number from the 2021 auction.
Keeneland sold a total of 2,847 yearlings through the ring for $405,495,700 during the 12-day auction, surpassing the previous record of $399,791,800 set during the 2006 September sale. The cumulative average and median prices surpassed September sale records set last year, with the average price of $142,429 up 7.83% from 2021 and the median up 7.69% from $65,000 to $70,000.
“This sale went beyond our expectations and reflects the energy and excitement in racing right now,” said Keeneland President and CEO Shannon Arvin. “We are grateful to our consignors, sellers and buyers for their support of Keeneland and the September sale. And a special thanks to the breeders. We appreciate how much hard work goes into breeding and raising quality horses, and we are very happy they were rewarded for their efforts through the ring.”
The Keeneland sales team was focused on starting off the September sale with a power-packed Book 1 and the elite section delivered right from the first hip through the ring.
“The very first hip bringing $850,000 set the tone,” Keeneland Vice President of Sales Tony Lacy said. “That first day was incredible. We really leaned into getting Book 1 solidified by listening to our buyers and our clients. This was something we needed to reestablish to make sure we had the quality forward. It really worked. The buyers appreciated it. There was almost a sense of euphoria around the grounds for a number of days and it carried all the way through the sale.”
The two-day Book 1 section produced gross sales of $113,660,000–a 25.42% increase over 2021–and included 96 horses who sold for $500,000 or more, up from 43 last year. The two-day Book 1 clearance rate jumped from 65% in 2021 to 78% this year.
Keeneland Director of Sales Operations' Cormac Breathnach credited the sales strong results to a quality group of horses and a diverse buying bench.
“The catalogue is only as good as the support the breeders give you,” Breathnach said. “And there was a very good crop of yearlings that has been bred here and nationally and that's a credit to the breeders and to the sellers who have presented them so well. We were really well supported. And also by the buying base, domestically and internationally, all the way through the book. If you look at the activity of the likes of St. Elias and several of our leading trainers in the last few days, it just shows the hunger for racehorses is there and we are proud of what we were able to present and very pleased with the results and happy for all of our clients.”
The 12-day September sale attracted a deep buying bench dominated largely by domestic buyers and, by the close of business Saturday, 88 different buyers had spent $1 million or more. The 30 million-dollar yearlings were purchased by nineteen different buying entities.
“If you look at the number of people who bought at that [million-dollar] level, the numbers are spread across quite a large number of buyers,” said Lacy. “In the past, we were very reliant on some of the bigger entities to support those million-dollar plus purchases. I think what you saw this year, and somewhat last year, was a broad buyer base that supported that level of the market. For us, that was extremely encouraging. There were some newer players, some very established people. But the diversity of the market was very encouraging.”
For the second year in a row, the partnership of Talla Racing, Woodford Racing and West Point Thoroughbreds made the biggest purchase of the September sale. The group, which purchased a $1.7-million son of City of Light to top the 2021 auction, was forced to $2.5 million to acquire a colt by that stallion's sire, Quality Road, to top the 2022 sale.
The sale-topper was consigned by Stonehaven Steadings, which sold 19 horses for $8,283,000.
“It's been a tremendous market,” Stonehaven Steading's Aidan O'Meara said. “We had a phenomenal run ourselves, but everybody across the board has had some seriously nice trading. It's a huge turnaround from a couple of years ago at the height of COVID and we were all fretting about what was going to unfold in that scenario. To see the turnaround in such a short period of time has been phenomenal.”
Repole, Viola Repeat as Leading Buyers
The partnership of Mike Repole's Repole Stable and Vinnie Viola's St. Elias Stable repeated as the September sale's leading buyer, with 31 yearlings purchased for $12,840,000, while Repole, who was seated in the pavilion for much of the first half of the sale, was, individually, the auction's fourth highest buyer, acquiring 27 yearlings for $7,940,000.
“With Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola, we bought a lot of horses and that was their game plan coming in,” said bloodstock agent Jacob West, who was active for the leading partnership as well as several other clients. “The plan was to really go after what we deemed quality and give ourselves a chance to win the big Saturday races. All in all, you sound like a broken record, but good horses always sell well. And that's what I saw in the market.”
Won't You Be My Partner?
Partnerships continued to play a major part in the marketplace, with the stallion-making team of SF Racing, Starlight Racing and Madaket Stables purchasing 21 yearlings for $12,825,000 to be the second leading buyers for the second straight year. Also in the market for potential future stallions, the BSW/Crow Colts Group teamed with Spendthrift and Gandharvi to buy 10 colts for $4,290,000.
“It's massive,” Lacy said of the impact partnerships have had on the market. “It's obviously a huge investment for anybody and any individual, so to spread that investment over a number of horses increases your opportunity to gain and be part of a good individual or a good program. We all enjoy sharing success and I think that's where people are starting to realize this is something that is actually fun. I think coming out of the pandemic, you see a lot more people who have an appreciation of the sport and want to be involved in it. It's a great way to let people in without the high-risk investment if they were doing it alone or in a small partnership. I think this is here to stay for quite a while. I am excited about what it can do for our industry in general over the next 10-20 years.”
Other major players to team up for the top 30 lots included Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimneys; Whisper Hill Farm and Three Chimneys; John Oxley, M.V. Magnier and Breeze Easy; Repole, St. Elias and West Point; and M.V. Magnier and Mike Repole.
“When you can diversify your portfolio and invest your money into multiple horses, you just give yourself a better chance to buy more quality products,” West said. “You give yourself a better chance of hitting a home run. People have realized the inherent risk that goes along with this game is very high. It's high risk, high reward, so if you can get involved in a partnership and diversify and lower your exposure, it makes all the more sense for people.”
Japanese Buyers Fight Exchange Rate
While facing a less favorable exchange rate than in previous years, Japanese buyers were still active at the Keeneland sale.
“There were 10 groups from Japan here for the sale,” Lacy said. “That's the busiest they've been at a September Sale in a long, long time.”
Hideyuki Mori led the way among Japanese buyers, joining the seven-figure parade with the $1.2-million purchase of a half-brother to Triple Crown winner Justify. Mori purchased five yearlings for a total of $2,545,000.
“We are very aware of the factors that are at play, with the currency exchanges being a major part of that,” Lacy said. “That was what was so encouraging that, even with the yen at a 35-year low against the dollar, Japanese buyers were very active. They probably couldn't swing as hard as they could have in a more favorable market for them, but they did see the value in what they were buying. And I think that's incredibly important. Our breeders here breed a high-quality horse that is very appealing to the international market. It just goes to show, when the currency exchanges start swinging back in their favor, I think the international markets will be even more prevalent.”
West Buying And Selling
West, along with Jill Gordon, had the first September consignment of his Highgate this year, allowing the prolific buyer to appreciate the other side of the auction ledger
“With Highgate now, I can see both sides of it,” West said. “And if I am being honest, there were some surprises, both good and bad. Some horses exceeded our expectations and then some horses didn't meet our expectations, but it seemed like the ones that exceeded our expectations really over-exceeded our expectations. So it seemed like, if you were deemed by the public as having a quality product, you got rewarded. Which is always good for the breeders.”
West said the September results reflect an overall positive attitude in the industry.
“I think, quite frankly, there is confidence in our business and in our industry,” West said. “Whether you want to say that's from the purse structures that we have or even what some of these stallion prospects have been selling for once they retire, or the money some of the top horses are making, or a little bit of it may be that people have some belief that we are playing on a more level playing field with HISA coming into play.”
West continued, “The other thing, too, that I don't think a lot of people give credit for, whether FOX Sports or TVG, I think we've done an incredible job of promoting our business. During COVID, we were the only show in town and I thought a lot of people were very interested. Every year it seems the handle keeps growing. There are still some bumps in the road, but overall, I think we have a quality product that appeals to a lot of people. There are new partnerships forming–it seems like whether it's West Point or Eclipse Thoroughbred or whatever syndicate group–they always seem stronger buying at the top end because they have more people investing with them. And I think a lot of that has to do with the marketing that TVG, and especially FOX Sports, have done with NYRA and Churchill and those type of tracks that they are covering.”
Demand Continues into Week Two
Demand continued into the second week of the 12-day auction, with leading buyers like St. Elias Stable, which purchased the top lots during the sale's 10th and 11th sessions, joined by international buyers from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Chile, China, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mexico, Panama and Saudi Arabia.
“It's an incredible market. The rate of sales is amazing,” said Pat Costello of Paramount Sales, which sold 136 horses for $20,448,500. “There is depth to the market. The top-end guys kept buying back into other books [beyond Books 1 and 2] and that has driven people back into these books [5 and 6]. One of the things driving the market is the shortage of horses.”
In Books 4-6, the clearance rate never fell below 82%. During the ninth session Wednesday, a Keeneland record 329 horses sold through the ring in a single session.
“It's been a strong sale across the board, and it's amazing it has held up so well and above last year,” said Marc McLean of Crestwood Farm, which sold seven-figure horses for the first time, a Gun Runner colt and a Quality Road colt, each for $1.05 million. “There has been a good floor, which is nice for the horses that aren't the stars. It had great depth. That's a healthy market to me. We had quite a few standouts in each session. It's nice to have horses that are the more elite of the day. It's such a great feeling for us and the owners and breeders and the whole farm staff to have something that you feel will stand out. We're in Book 6, and we're busier than we ever dreamed we'd be.”
Taylor Made on Top Again
Taylor Made Sales Agency led all consignors at the September sale for the eighth consecutive year and the 24th year since 1988. Taylor Made sold 273 yearlings for $38,969,000, including three seven-figure colts by Constitution ($1.8 million), Quality Road ($1.15 million) and Into Mischief ($1 million).
Gainesway was second in total sales, followed by Paramount Sales, Lane's End Farm, Denali Stud, Eaton Sales, Woods Edge Farm, Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency and Machmer Hall Thoroughbreds.
Lane's End Farm's Quality Road was responsible for seven of the 30 seven-figure yearlings and he was bettered in that category only by Spendthrift Farm's Into Mischief, who had eight. Three Chimneys' Gun Runner had five million-dollar yearlings, while Curlin had three. Justify, Constitution and City of Light each had two, while Tapit had one.
For the third straight year, Into Mischief was the leading sire by gross, with 58 yearlings selling for $30,495,000. Omaha Beach was the leading first-crop sire with 59 yearlings grossing $12,667,000 for an average of $214,695. He was followed in that category by Audible, who had 66 yearlings sell for $10,609,000 for an average of $160,742.
English Channel Filly Tops Keeneland Finale
A filly by English Channel (hip 4108) brought a final bid of $115,000 from Tracy Farmer to top the final session of the September sale Saturday. Bred by Calumet Farm and consigned by Buckland Sales, the yearling is out of In Dy Ritz (A.P. Indy) and is a full-sister to stakes winner and multiple graded placed Ritzy A. P.
In all, 184 yearlings sold Saturday for a gross of $2,518,000. The session average was $13,685 and the median was $8,000.
There was no corresponding session a year ago.