September Market Strains to Maintain Boom


Sale-topping Hip 498 | Keeneland


Hats off to you, Mr. Genaro Garcia–and the very best of luck with your filly. For yours is the signature on the last of 2,855 sale dockets processed through 13 sessions of the Keeneland September Sale. A daughter of Haynesfield, out of a War Front mare; fourth dam won the GI Flower Bowl S. back in 1990. And the beauty of this business is that she retains every right, at $1,300, to overcome all the vagaries of fortune that may no less afflict the $8.2 million daughter of American Pharoah and Leslie’s Lady who had the previous week become the most expensive filly ever sold at this auction.

Between the pair, admittedly, the odds of pedigree and conformation will not favor Hip 4642. But the fact is that neither has ever had a saddle on her back, and it now boils down to how destiny chooses to reward the faith and perseverance required for both transactions. For Mandy Pope, in making her only purchase of the fortnight, it was a case of holding out to thwart Sheikh Mohammed himself for the sale-topper. For Mr. Genaro, it was about being literally the last man standing. Ten of the last 11 yearlings in the catalogue had been scratched, but the Haynesfield filly kept her appointment; the hard-working Four Star Sales team secured their 118th sale; and that worn gavel came down one last time.

The commercial abyss dividing these two fillies reflects the unique nature of Keeneland September. It’s not so much a market as the market. The frenzied closing session of Book 1 was off the charts, the $8.2-million filly being one of eight to make seven figures on the day. But while the top end of the bloodstock market has been wild for a while now, on both sides of the Atlantic, it was only when the Amish and others had completed their shopping on Sunday that we could get the full picture.

The three Fasig-Tipton summer yearling sales–July in Lexington, plus the Select and New York auctions in Saratoga–between them cover plenty of ground, and have duly become a pretty good signpost to September. Last year, Fasig’s summer business had anticipated huge KEESEP numbers by tipping $100 million for the first time, up from $75 million just two years previously. Sure enough, Keeneland went through the roof, its $377-million turnover comparing with $308 million in 2017 and $273 million in 2016.

This time around, understandably enough, the Fasig summer subsided 10.6% by gross; and 8% by average. The volume of trade had been very similar (69.9% of 523 hips finding a new home, compared with 70.7% of 538 the previous year) so it looked as though the big spenders at the top end, still rolling in the cash glut of post-recession fiscal policy, might just have begun to go too hard to drag the rest of the market into their slipstream.

In the event, however, Keeneland shed just 4.5% of its monster 2018 market as turnover dipped to $360 million. With the RNA rate virtually unchanged, around 24%, the average eased to $126,096 from $129,335.


  SARATOGA & NY                         KEENELAND SEPT                        TOTAL
           sold      aggregate     average            sold      aggregate     average            sold      aggregate     average
2019 523 90,368,000 172,778 2,855 360,004,700 126,096 3,378 450,372,700 133,325
2018 538 101,048,500 187,822 2,916 377,140,400 129,335 3,454 478,188,900 138,445
2017 510 85,316,000 167,286 2,555 307,845,000 120,487 3,065 393,161,000 128,274
2016 516 74,998,500 145,346 2,792 272,890,500 97,740 3,308 347,889,000 105,166
2015 532 81,636,500 153,452 2,745 281,496,100 102,549 3,277 363,132,600 110,812
2014 452 62,636,000 138,575 2,819 279,960,000 99,312 3,271 342,596,000 104,737
2013 467 60,711,000 130,002 2,744 280,491,300 102,220 3,211 341,202,300 106,260
2012 434 55,996,000 129,023 2,516 219,723,000 87,330 2,950 275,719,000 93,464


In sum, a $450-million North American yearling market so far this year has lost $27,816,200 in value, or 5.8%. It has still maintained a giddy advance on the post-recession consolidation of 2013 to 2016, when it was worth between $341 million and $363 million.

All bull runs contain the seeds of their own destruction, of course, and it’s worth noting that the KEESEP median slipped from $50,000 to $45,000. A lot of people sieving this catalogue need to recycle the value they find there, for instance as pinhookers at the 2-year-old sales. And there’s little question that the elite sector of the bloodstock market is pretty faithfully reflecting the way a decade of recovery has principally reinforced great wealth.

But the biggest single impetus to the past two Septembers has not, of course, been a domestic investor. Even in a market like this one, the return of Sheikh Mohammed in person–having for many years previously left his investment here to his representatives–has made an enormous impact. In 2016, his former bloodstock manager John Ferguson gave $2,245,000 for five hips; in 2017, his Godolphin team ranked third on the ledger with $8,065,000 for 17 hips. With the boss back in town, to see the horseflesh and call the bidding, Godolphin has acquired 33 yearlings over the past two Septembers for a total of $35,290,000.

And that’s without an $8-million underbid! It took the Sheikh that long to figure out that Mandy Pope was going to stop at nothing for the half-sister to Into Mischief, Beholder and Mendelssohn. As it was, he had to settle for the sale’s four most expensive colts.

Once again, moreover, his brother Sheikh Hamdan came through as its second-highest investor. This time around, between them, their Godolphin and Shadwell operations gave $27,070,000 for 28 hips. Nobody in this industry should ever, for one thoughtless moment, take for granted the global benefits arising from the Maktoums’ love for the Thoroughbred. Their investment has been unprecedented not only in its scale but also in its commitment.

That the American market also owes much to the broader echelon of the big spenders is evident from the steady increase in the portion of KEESEP turnover claimed by a) seven-figure hips and b) the top ten investors each year.


  $1 MILLION-PLUS HIPS                     TOP 10 BUYERS
     aggregate            hips % of gross      aggregate            hips % of gross
2019 40,900,000 22 11.4 79,330,000 130 22
2018 36,525,000 27 9.7 86,820,000 166 23
2017 19,950,000 13 6.5 66,950,000 162 21.8
2016 13,900,000 9 5.1 53,386,000 152 19.6
2015 14,525,000 11 5.2 43,340,000 147 16.1
2014 18,300,000 13 6.5 51,180,000 130 18.3
2013 25,250,000 18 9 50,974,000 146 18.2


Leslie’s Lady rather distorts the first group this time around, with 22 sales representing 11.4% of the gross after 27 accounted for 9.7% last year. But both plainly represent a bigger slice of the pie than before.

The top 10 buyers at each sale, similarly, are consistently hitting above the level of four or five years ago. Though they came away with just 130 animals this time, compared with 166 last year, they still accounted for 22% of the gross (similar to 2018, but until recently that share was consistently in the teens).

Their tastes remain predictable, and they reliably left to pinhookers the challenge of finding physicals likely to punch above their sires’ weight. Of the 86 hips to make over $600,000, 75 were by stallions that now stand (or, in a couple of cases, did so previously) at six-figure fees. Exceptional kudos, therefore, goes to Union Rags for producing no fewer than five of the remaining 11 at a 2017 conception fee of $50,000.

Nine of those realizing more than $600,000 resulted from a book of 235 that made Into Mischief the busiest sire in the land in 2017, at a new fee of $75,000. That, of course, was 10 times the going rate just five years previously, and he has since continued soaring to $175,000. Curiously, he still has a solitary seven-figure yearling to his name, having another near-miss with a $950,000 colt here.

His half-sister helped American Pharoah to overtake Into Mischief as the sale’s leading sire by gross (55 sold for $24,044,000, against 68 for $23,438,000) but the conservative books of War Front again permitted 14 of his collectors’ items to top the averages at $579,643. (Leaving aside, that is, the tiny sample for Dubawi {Ire}.)

His tryst with Leslie’s Lady also helped American Pharoah into the top five by average, at $437,164, though also rather stretched out the gap to a median of $240,000. His debut here last year brought him 47 sales at $416,702, with a median of $320,000.

He’s had plenty of early action on the track, of course, though some of his peers deserve a lot more patience. If there’s anything as ridiculous as the stampede for unproven new stallions, it’s the impatience the market then shows in demanding proof of their merits. Very often they aren’t even permitted time to get horses on the track before the market runs away screaming.

But I can’t alter the fact that the result is a significant sector within the overall marketplace. In grudging complicity, then, let’s take a look at how the latest group of rookies fared at their first September Sale.


FIRST-SEASON SIRES AT KEENELAND SEPTEMBER min four sold and $50,000 gross
      2017 fee            ring            sold         % sold              gross    average
Nyquist 40,000 38 24 63.2 6,033,000 251,375
Runhappy 25,000 47 39 83 9,472,000 242,872
Frosted 50,000 61 44 72.1 10,025,000 227,841
Tamarkuz 12,500 8 8 100 903,000 112,875
Outwork 15,000 33 23 69.7 2,365,000 102,826
California Chrome 40,000 48 27 56.3 2,685,000 99,444
Air Force Blue 25,000 47 28 59.6 2,572,000 91,857
Exaggerator 30,000 63 38 60.3 3,369,000 88,658
Not This Time 15,000 54 37 68.5 2,999,200 81,059
Hit It A Bomb 7,000 5 4 80 282,000 70,500
Upstart 10,000 49 32 65.3 1,874,500 58,578
Speightster 10,000 46 33 71.7 1,851,000 56,091
Brody’s Cause 12,500 20 14 70 687,500 49,107
Anchor Down 10,000 17 15 88.2 709,000 47,267
Flintshire 20,000 30 27 90 996,000 36,889
Vancouver 15,000 30 19 63.3 667,700 35,142
Tourist 12,500 28 20 71.4 673,500 33,675
Mshawish 20,000 27 20 74.1 658,700 32,935
Firing Line 5,000 14 13 92.9 275,000 21,154
Texas Red 7,500 6 5 83.3 64,500 12,900
Big Blue Kitten 15,000 23 22 95.6 75,400 3,427


Putting aside as an outlier the first Triple Crown winner since the 1970s, the best average among other new sires last September was the work of Honor Code at $228,095. That mark was comfortably passed by both Nyquist and Runhappy, and essentially matched by Frosted. Runhappy did especially well in processing his stock, 39 of 47 finding a new home, and for a $25,000 cover, hit the ball out of the ground with a $700,000 colt (Hip 551).

From a smaller sample, however, the star turn was Tamarkuz. He housed all eight of his hips, and five of them made six figures. An average of $112,875 stacks up impressively against a $12,500 conception fee, never mind against his revised tag of $10,000. Here’s a horse who beat two future Breeders’ Cup Classic winners in the Dirt Mile, while his half-brother has become a Group 1 winner at Royal Ascot since these yearlings were born. Yet they result from a debut book of just 38 mares.

Others plainly need to look to their laurels, though it’s always worth looking past the bald numbers. Exaggerator, for instance, achieved only an ordinary clearance rate in selling 38 of 63 into the ring. But if you add his RNAs, the average of his “last bids” actually falls pretty close to his $88,658 average, at $84,810. In other words, his unsold stock was not being allowed to go cheaply. Similar testing of Mshawish show that his RNA average, extremely unusually, actually exceeded that of his sales. So while his numbers may look disappointing, he has already had a businesslike fee cut–and it’s good to know that sensible people are prepared to hang onto his stock long enough to let them show what they can do with a saddle on their backs.

Not that the RNA would always be a reliable instrument to avoid “rewarding” sires, when ranked by average sales, for failing to shift their weakest stock. Either way, it’s easy to identify one or two huge talents who are going to pay with their fees. But they retain every right to turn things around once their stock get onto the track.

The trouble is that $360 million, changing hands in 13 sessions, will always mess with people’s heads and skew their priorities. Scrolling down the list of averages, it’s hard to stifle an impotent rage at the idiotic haste with which stallions are discarded. But I guess that gives us all a chance. Right down to a $1,300 Haynesfield filly.

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