Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale ended its 13-session run on Sunday with gross sales of $360,004,700, fifth highest in September Sale history, headlined by the record $8.2 million American Pharoah filly purchased by Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm and the $4.1 million colt by Curlin sold to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin. A change in format to Books 1 and 2 boosted the vibrant market by enhancing the quality of Book 3 and beyond and creating excitement from start to finish of the sale.
Final receipts were just behind last year’s $377,130,400 to rank as the second-highest gross since 2007. During this year’s sale, 2,855 yearlings sold compared to 2,916 in 2018.
Cumulative average of $126,096 was down 2.50% from last year’s record $129,331. The median of $45,000 decreased 10% from $50,000 in 2018.
In all, 22 horses sold for seven figures each, including seven that sold for $2 million or more, and were purchased by 14 of the industry’s leading domestic and foreign buyers.
“This September Sale sparked a positive energy that reverberated through the sales grounds and the region,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “The presence again this year of Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan, the strong representation of top domestic buyers, the high quality of the yearlings brought to market and the great feedback we received about the format changes, barn improvements and enhanced amenities all combined to make this a special sale. And its economic impact extends far beyond Keeneland to benefit local hospitality, tourism and retail.”
Keeneland successfully reformatted Books 1 and 2 this year to catalog 516 fewer horses during that period, reducing Book 1 from four to three sessions. The goal of the format change was to give buyers extra time to inspect horses on the grounds.
“We’ve received positive feedback from horsemen about the format change, and we are pleased with the consistently strong level of trade it generated throughout the sale,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “Buyers suggested we catalog fewer horses up front and we responded. By making that change, we extended the quality farther into the sale and created momentum for the second week.”
“The new format worked very well,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell said. “Book 1 was a sale within itself. It had great energy to it. There was more energy on the grounds the weekend prior to the start of the sale than I’ve seen in a long time. It had a great buzz going into it. Having fewer horses in Book 2 really set that sale up very well and helped Book 3.”
The third session of Book 1 was especially memorable, realizing an average of $524,855 and a median of $375,000, led by the sale of the $8.2 million filly by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah who is a half-sister to four-time champion Beholder, Grade 1 winner Mendelssohn and Grade 1 winner and leading sire Into Mischief. Eight horses sold for $1 million or more during the session, which was marked by spirited, persistent bidding.
“It’s been an incredible sale,” bloodstock agent Mike Ryan, who bought horses on nine days of the auction and was the third-leading buyer with 30 purchases totaling $8,390,000, told Thoroughbred Daily News. “I don’t recall in many years seeing a sale like … Wednesday, the final day of Book 1. That afternoon was one of the strongest sales I can remember in many years, and it’s carried through. Book 2 was extremely strong as was Book 3. Some of the pinhookers have done very well and some breeders have done very well based on stud fees, too. A lot of people have had a good week, which is great for the business. The energy and electricity here all week has been pretty palpable.”
Market strength was reflected in seven-figure yearlings sold on each day of Book 2, along with a $625,000 Quality Road colt on the second day of Book 3, a $300,000 Maclean’s Music colt in Book 5 and the participation of such notable buyers as Mike Ryan, Kenny McPeek, Starlight, Cromwell Bloodstock, Ben McElroy, Dale Romans and Mike Repole’s Repole Stables deep into the second week.
“We consider the September Sale to be a two-week sale of different markets,” Russell said. “It’s one-stop shopping for buyers participating at any level of the market. Instead of having to come to Keeneland for five different yearling sales, buyers just have to come once a year. It’s a great convenience to both buyers and sellers.”
Buyer Justin Casse, who signed the ticket for the $625,000 Quality Road colt, said the demand for horses at that time, midway through the sale, was “pleasantly surprising. I’ve been selling some and trying to buy some. You’ve got to be prepared for the ones you like.”
“It was wonderful to see all the breeders rewarded for their hard work,” said bloodstock agent Marette Farrell, who signed the ticket on a $1 million colt by Candy Ride (ARG) for Speedway Stable to top the fifth session. “There were a lot of different entities with a lot of money, so that was great to see. I think there was a much better concentration of good horses in Book 1. It really got the energy going. It helped the market (in later books). The buyers realized they had to step up if they wanted the horse.”
The $8.2 million filly, consigned by breeder Clarkland Farm, is the highest-priced yearling filly in Keeneland sales history. Her price equals the fourth-highest price ever paid at the auction. It is the highest price at the September Sale since the $11.7 million given for Meydan City in 2006 and equals the 10th-highest price in Keeneland sales history.
Clarkland’s Marty Buckner explained the importance of the September Sale to people whose livelihood is breeding and selling Thoroughbreds.
“September is the market for us,” she said. “It’s how we know how the year’s going to go for us and what we’re going to be able to do the following year – (which stallions) we’re going to breed to, if we’re going to be able to purchase a mare, if we’re going to buy a new tractor. It all relies on that.”
In 2006, Clarkland bought the record-selling filly’s dam, the then 10-year-old Leslie’s Lady, a stakes-winning daughter of Tricky Creek, in foal to Orientate for $100,000 at Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale. Clarkland sold Beholder, by Henny Hughes, for $180,000 at the 2011 September Sale and sold Mendelssohn, by Scat Daddy, for the 2016 sale-topping price of $3 million.
There was great diversity among the September Sale buying bench assembled by Keeneland’s sales team as part of a global, year-round marketing and recruitment effort, which sets the auction house apart from its competitors. Buyers from across North America and 25 foreign countries representing Europe, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, South America and Latin America converged at Keeneland for the sale. There was a strong Middle Eastern presence with buyers from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar making purchases.
Buyers of the sale’s 22 seven-figure yearlings were nearly equally divided between U.S. and international interests, and included partnerships comprising both domestic and foreign-based owners.
For the second consecutive year, Sheikh Mohammed attended the September Sale and his Godolphin was the leading buyer. Godolphin paid $16 million for 10 horses, purchasing four of the five highest-priced yearlings: a $4.1 million Curlin colt who is the first foal of New Zealand champion sprinter Bounding (AUS); a $2.9 million War Front colt out of Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner Believe You Can; a $2.5 million Tapit colt who is a half-brother to champion and Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist; and a $2.15 million colt by Medaglia d’Oro who is the first foal of Grade 1 winner Tara’s Tango. Godolphin also acquired a Union Rags filly for $1 million.
The second-leading buyer was Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Estate Company Limited. Shadwell paid $11,070,000 for 18 yearlings, including three for seven figures: a colt and a filly both by Curlin for $1,050,000 each and a $1 million filly by War Front.
“Both Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan are strong supporters of the September Sale,” Elliston said. “Their participation is not only an economic benefit for Keeneland, but for all they’ve done for racing, it is an honor for us to have them attend the sale. When they go to the commercial market, Keeneland is their choice for yearlings. That’s a badge of honor for us.”
M.V. Magnier of Irish-based Coolmore was involved in the purchase of 10 horses for $7,805,000. Magnier bought yearlings in his name and in partnerships with Repole Stables and Vinnie Viola, with Paul Shanahan, with Sarah Kelly and with White Birch Farm.
Yuji Hasegawa of Japan paid $1.5 million for a colt by Tapit who is a full brother to champion Unique Bella. Hasegawa also acquired a son of Curlin for $700,000.
Shawn Dugan, on behalf of Al Shira’aa Stables of Abu Dhabi, went to $2 million for a filly by Empire Maker.
Following Mike Ryan, agent, as the sale’s fourth-leading buyer was Mandy Pope with her single acquisition of the $8.2 million American Pharoah filly.
China Horse Club bought 13 yearlings: three singly and 10 in partnership with North American-based Maverick Racing for $6,275,000. The partners went to $900,000 for a colt by Quality Road and spent $510,000 for a son of Quality Road who topped the sixth session.
North American-based buyers flexed their spending muscle to rank among the sale’s top purchasers: Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm; Donald Adam’s Courtlandt Farm; and Ben Glass, agent for Gary and Mary West. A new partnership participating at the September Sale was SF/Starlight/Madaket, which bought 12 colts for $7,005,000, led by a $1 million Union Rags colt.
The September Sale’s leading consignor for the fifth year in a row and the 21st time since 1988 was Taylor Made Sales Agency. Taylor Made sold 290 horses for $40,660,900, including four seven-figure horses led by a $2.1 million son of Pioneerof the Nile purchased Mike Ryan, agent for e Five Racing.
Using seven consignors, Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Bred & Raised sold 48 horses throughout the sale for $16,790,700, among them four seven-figure horses: the $4.1 million Curlin colt (consigned by Eaton Sales) and $2.15 million Medaglia d’Oro colt (Denali Stud), both purchased by Godolphin; a $1.2 million Medaglia d’Oro colt (Gainesway) bought by Ben McElroy, agent; and a $1.05 million Curlin filly (Denali Stud) sold to Shadwell.
“Book 1 was very strong and demand persisted into the later books,” Banke said. “Well-bred, attractive individuals were particularly sought after. International buyers were enthusiastic participants. Overall the market was strong.”
American Pharoah, represented by his second crop of yearlings offered at the September Sale, was the auction’s leading sire for gross sales. A total of 55 sons and daughters sold for $24,044,000. In addition to the sale-topper, they included a $1.3 million colt purchased by Jamie McCalmont, agent for Magnier and Sarah Kelly.
The recent race track successes of the progeny of such stallions as Into Mischief, Curlin, Quality Road, Uncle Mo, Pioneerof the Nile, Medaglia d’Oro, Empire Maker, Tapit and Union Rags propelled them to the top 10 of the stallion ranks by gross sales.
Frosted was the leading freshman sire by gross, with 44 yearlings selling for $10,025,000. Nyquist led freshman sires by average price, with his 24 yearlings averaging $251,375.
Enhancements to customer service and client amenities were well received by clients and contributed to the sale’s upbeat atmosphere. Barns 11-19 near the Sales Pavilion debuted improvements that included re-graded walking rings and new roofs, drainage systems, LED lighting, electrical wiring, water lines, curbing and trees. The renovations are the first phase of Keeneland’s multiyear project to renovate the stable area.
Additionally, Keeneland presented the two-story Saddling Paddock Chalet overlooking the Saddling Paddock and just steps away from the Sales Pavilion to offer clients a more convenient upscale buffet lunch as well as additional lounge areas and conference space.
For the first time at the September Sale, endoscopic videos of yearlings were available for viewing in Keeneland’s Repository. Seventy percent of September Sale consignors submitted video scopes to the Repository for some part of their consignment. Video scopes were available for 65% of the horses sold in Book 1; 85% of those videos were viewed either in the Repository or online.
The widespread use of video scopes pleased Ashview Farm’s Gray Lyster, President of the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association, which is promoting endoscopic videos.
“We’re adamant about telling people we’re not forcing usage,” he said. “This is about building a comfort level for as many buyers as we can to use them in the future.”
For consignors who submitted video scopes, Keeneland required videos to be recorded and submitted no more than 10 days from the sale day of the horse – preferably, once the horse was on the sales grounds.
“Some of the biggest buyers in the world were using video scopes,” Lyster said, “and that gave consignors confidence to provide them.”
Lyster said he knew of some veterinarians who looked at video scopes online as part of last-minute evaluations.
“Vets have been out on the grounds and they’ve been able to view X-rays and video scopes while horses are in the back ring, and that can only build buyer confidence to have their own representative be able to view these things,” he said. “I had a few people tell me they sold expensive horses after horses were vetted while in the back walking ring.”
On Sunday’s closing day of the September Sale, 207 horses sold for $1,308,100, for an average of $6,319 and a median of $3,500.
At $55,000, the top seller was a colt by Temple City from the family of Group 3 winner and sire Mizzen Mast purchased by LEG Group. The first foal out of the Yes It’s True mare Amizzen Grace was consigned by Vinery Sales, agent for Haymarket Farm.
Racing returns to Keeneland on Friday, Oct. 4, opening day of the 17-day Fall Meet and the start of the prestigious Fall Stars Weekend. A total of 10 stakes, including five Grade 1 races, are run over three days. Nine stakes during Fall Stars Weekend are Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” races, which award the winner an automatic and free entry into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Keeneland’s next auction is the November Breeding Stock Sale, to be held Nov. 5-16.