Sale successfully conducted on schedule amid challenges of COVID-19
Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale, held with extensive COVID-19 protocols to create the safest environment possible for participants, ended today with solid results generated by competitive trade throughout the 12-day auction and the sale of 15 yearlings for $1 million or more, led by a $2 million colt by leading sire Tapit.
“The September Sale can be measured as a success given that in these uncertain times the market proved there is still tremendous interest and money for quality racehorses at all levels,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “Everyone who participated should be applauded for their unprecedented efforts to make this market a reality.”
The September Sale is a bellwether for the global Thoroughbred industry and a significant economic driver for Central Kentucky breeders.
“Keeneland is fortunate, in the midst of a pandemic, to be able to not only hold the September Sale but do so on its originally scheduled dates,” Keeneland President-Elect and Interim Head of Sales Shannon Arvin said. “I’m so proud of the Keeneland team who, immediately after the Spring Meet was canceled and the lockdown in Kentucky was announced in mid-March, began collaborating with state and local health officials, breeders, consignors, buyers and others in the Thoroughbred industry, to plan for the September Sale even as the landscape changed almost daily. The success of this sale is a testament to the cooperation among everyone involved and the resiliency of our industry.”
Among the health and safety protocols implemented for the September Sale by Keeneland were the requirements that people who accessed the grounds during the sale be credentialed through the Virtual Badge digital ID and that all Keeneland employees, consignors and their staffs, veterinarians and their staffs, farriers, van representatives and media show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Everyone entering the Keeneland grounds underwent a daily health screening with a temperature check and questions. Face coverings and social distancing of at least six feet were required, and the Sales Pavilion, including the Sales Arena and Back Holding Ring, had reduced capacity. Nearly all food service moved from the Sales Pavilion to concessions and the Phoenix Room in the track Grandstand.
“Full credit for this year’s September Sale goes to everyone – breeders, consignors, owners, buyers, agents, trainers and countless other people – for their cooperation in following the health and safety protocols and adapting to the new forms of buying that allowed us to offer this important market in this unusual time,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell said. “It certainly wasn’t your normal September Sale, and we know it wasn’t easy. We sincerely thank all who participated and made the best of the challenging circumstances. We look forward to 2021 and the return of the hustle and bustle.”
For the sale, held Sept. 13-25, Keeneland sold 2,346 yearlings for $238,454,300, for an average of $101,643 and a median of $37,000.
In 2019, the 13-session September Sale was one of the strongest in recent years, with 2,850 horses selling for $359,789,700, for an average of $126,242 and a median of $45,500. Last year Book 1 spanned three days versus two days this year.
“Last year was an incredible market,” Russell said. “Trying to replicate those results, even in a normal year, would have been difficult. No doubt, COVID-19 and the travel restrictions due to the pandemic had a strong impact on some aspects of the market. Certain major players did not take part. However, a deep, diverse buying bench still participated at all levels. It was very rewarding that the second week of the sale was stronger than anticipated.”
Keeneland demonstrated its flexibility by providing a variety of options to allow buyers to participate remotely, headlined by the successful launch of online bidding. Online bidding attracted a total of 1,857 bids, which resulted in the sale of 126 horses for a total of $12,165,900 to buyers in 17 U.S. states, Japan, United Kingdom, Canada and Spain. The highest price recorded online was the $825,000 paid by Yuji Hasegawa for a colt by Tapit out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) winner Stopchargingmaria.
“Online bidding worked as smoothly and was as popular among buyers as we had hoped,” Arvin said. “When you try something new, you kind of hold your breath to see how it goes. We are very pleased with our partner, Xcira, and the online auction technology system, as well as the level of participation by buyers.”
Keeneland expanded its phone bidding service to accommodate remote buyers, and to enable greater social distancing, added a third on-site bidding location in the Show Barn, the area just outside the Sales Pavilion where horses begin their journey to the sales ring. The area proved very popular with buyers.
In an effort to deliver more information directly to buyers, Keeneland further enhanced its digital catalog to feature walking videos of yearlings and comments from consignors. Keeneland also offered a list of bloodstock agents who planned to attend the sale and could work with buyers participating remotely.
As in recent years, demand for quality individuals continued to drive the market, and buyers remained highly selective in their quest for Thoroughbred racing prospects.
Proving the diversity of Keeneland’s buying bench was the fact that 14 different entities, dominated by domestic buyers, purchased the 15 seven-figure yearlings.
“Breeders are to be commended for bringing a very good crop of yearlings to market,” Keeneland Director of Sales Development Mark Maronde said. “The value found here encouraged strong trade through the entire sale. Horse people are optimists in the best of times, and here they are – while there are no fans at many race tracks and with all the uncertainty in every facet of life – doing more than $238 million worth of commerce. That’s huge.”
Tom Hinkle of consignor Hinkle Farms agreed. Hinkle sold all 22 yearlings in its consignment for a total of $3,124,000. They included a $750,000 Arrogate colt purchased on the internet by Hasegawa and a $750,000 Gun Runner filly bought by Robbie Medina, agent.
“Because of COVID, there was a lot of uncertainty – not just in the Thoroughbred market but in everything,” Hinkle said. “After COVID really took hold in April, we adjusted our projections on what we thought our yearlings would bring. Fortunately, we had a great sale. We’ve not only exceeded our revised projections but we’ve exceeded our original projections.
“We just sell our own horses, so we look at (sales results) as an aggregate,” he added. “As an aggregate, we’ve been very pleased.”
The September Sale topper sold on the second day of the two-day Book 1 when the partnership of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, Robert LaPenta, Gainesway and Winchell Thoroughbreds paid $2 million for the Tapit colt. Out of Grade 1 winner Tara’s Tango, he was consigned by Eaton Sales, agent for Stonestreet Bred & Raised.
Tapit also sired the $1.25 million filly who led the opening session. Claiborne Farm, agent, purchased the daughter of Alabama (G1) winner Embellish the Lace, by Super Saver. Consigned by Bluewater Sales, she is from the family of Grade 1 winners Afleet Express and Materiality.
Later sessions showed signs of strength in the market as competitive bidding for premium individuals continued.
“Bidding has been challenging – we have all landed on the same horses on numerous occasions,” said Clay Scherer, who during the fourth session signed the ticket for Flurry Racing Stables to acquire a Speightster half-sister to their September Sale graduate and recent Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner, Shedaresthedevil, for $350,000.
Boosting the ninth session was Marsha Naify’s purchase of a $500,000 colt by Karakontie (JPN) consigned by Gainesway, agent. That day, Naify purchased three yearlings through phone bidding.
Overall, the sale’s leading buyer was Donato Lanni, agent for SF/Starlight/Madaket. On behalf of the partnership, Lanni purchased 28 colts for $11.25 million. At $775,000, the group’s most expensive purchases were sons of Into Mischief and Quality Road.
Other leading buyers who spent more than $3 million were West Bloodstock, agent for Repole Stables and St. Elias Stable; Mike Ryan, agent; Shadwell Estate Company Ltd.; B S W/Crow; Mayberry Farm; Courtlandt Farm; OXO Equine; Maverick Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds. In addition, MyRacehorse.com, co-owner of Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner and September Sale graduate Authentic, purchased 14 yearlings either singly or in partnership with Spendthrift Farm for total expenditures of $3,355,000.
Buyers had an appetite for yearlings by Authentic’s sire, Into Mischief, who ranked as the sale’s leading sire with 57 horses sold for $25,401,000, for an average of $445,632. Among them were five seven-figure horses, including the $1.9 million top-priced filly during the second session, the $1 million colt who topped the fourth session and the $625,000 colt who led the fifth session.
Larry Best’s OXO Equine purchased the $1.9 million filly. Consigned by Taylor Made Sales Agency, agent, she is out of the stakes-winning Medaglia d’Oro mare Taylor S, a half-sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Liam’s Map and Grade 3 winner and sire Not This Time.
Medaglia d’Oro was the leading sire by average with 18 yearlings averaging $599,722. He sired four seven-figure horses – all fillies: $1.6 million (sold to Shadwell Estate Company Ltd), $1.4 million (Robbie Medina, agent), $1.1 million (Whisper Hill Farm) and $1.1 million (What Time Is It Racing – Oracle Bloodstock, agent). Horse of the Year Gun Runner was the leading sire among stallions represented by their first yearlings at the auction with total sales of $8.12 million for 32 horses.
Other top-priced horses represented such successful sires as American Pharoah, Curlin, Kitten’s Joy, Quality Road, Speightstown, Uncle Mo and War Front. Leading later sessions were progeny of established sire Ghostzapper and such emerging young stallions as Cupid, Karakontie, Mastery, Not This Time, Nyquist, Practical Joke and Unified.
For the sixth year in a row and the 22nd time since 1988, Taylor Made Sales Agency was the September Sale’s leading consignor. Taylor Made sold 252 horses for $29,783,400, including the $1.9 million Into Mischief filly.
Meanwhile, using seven consignors, Stonestreet Bred & Raised sold 30 yearlings for $9,911,000. Joining the $2 million sale topper among the Stonestreet horses was the $1 million colt by Into Mischief who was offered by Warrendale Sales and purchased by Peter Leidel to lead the fourth session.
During Friday’s final session, 167 yearlings sold for $1,143,000, for an average of $6,844 and a median of $4,500. Stonehaven Steadings consigned the $45,000 high seller, a colt by Cupid purchased by Scott Gelner, agent.