Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale concluded Sunday with commerce described as “electric” at every level of the market during the 13-day auction, held Sept. 10-23. The bellwether sale produced gross receipts of $377,130,400, which was the fourth highest in September Sale history and approached the record heights of the mid-2000s. Average price bested last year’s record. Twenty-seven horses sold for $1 million or more, including three for $2 million-plus, to be the most since 2007. The $2.4 million given by Coolmore’s M.V. Magnier for a colt by leading sire War Front is the highest price paid for a yearling in the world so far this year.
Desire among buyers at the top level of the market for quality racehorses fueled momentum from start to finish of the sale, heightened by several factors: a “vintage” crop of yearlings that possessed quality pedigrees and exceptional conformation; the highly anticipated yearlings from the first crop of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah; and the presence of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who in the name of Godolphin/Godolphin Japan, acquired 27 yearlings for $19,960,000, the highest amount for a single buying entity since 2006.
The vibrant pace resulted in 2018 gross sales exceeding last year’s 12-day auction total of $307,845,400 on the seventh day of selling. Final receipts of $377,130,400 rose 22.51 percent over last year and represent the highest gross since the 14-day September Sale in 2005 when 3,545 yearlings sold for $384,349,900. This year 2,916 horses sold compared to 2,555 in 2017.
Cumulative average established a record, increasing 7.34 percent from $120,487 to $129,331. The median of $50,000 was 12.28 percent below $57,000 in 2017.
The number of yearlings sold for seven figures more than doubled from last year, increasing from 13 in 2017 to 27 this year. Three of those yearlings brought more than $2 million each, led by the sale-topping War Front colt sold to M. V. Magnier for $2.4 million and consigned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency, agent.
“The September Sale saw an all-out competition for horses that drove the volume of trade to robust levels,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “Credit goes to the breeders and consignors who brought one of the best crops of yearlings to market in years. Buyers responded with an enthusiasm that exceeded all our expectations.”
Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell agreed. “In the end, it has to be the horse,” he said. “Yes, there are external factors like a strong economy and stock market and new tax laws that obviously help raise the bar. But if the horses aren’t top quality, buyers aren’t going to pay extra money for them just because they have it in their pocket.”
“We’ve had an excellent sale,” said Michael Hernon of Gainesway, the auction’s second-leading consignor with gross sales of $33,692,700 and leading consignor in sessions 2, 9 and 11. “We were met by a deep, strong market, which started with the presence of Sheikh Mohammed and (his brother) Sheikh Hamdan, and there was a lot of strong domestic money here. There was good depth and strength, which frankly continued right through the (sale) process.
“The market is strong for the really good individual, the higher-end quality horse who has the all-important clean vet report,” he said. “Once you combine those, there’s real money here and the reserves become relatively inconsequential. We’ve had a very high clearance rate. We set very fair and realistic reserves. In a strong market, the market picks it up.”
Sheikh Mohammed’s acquisitions were highlighted by seven million-dollar-plus purchases, led by a colt by American Pharoah for $2.2 million and at $1.75 million, the sale’s top-priced filly, a daughter of War Front and a half-sister to champion and 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist, who stands at Godolphin’s Darley in Lexington.
“It was so exciting, and (Sheikh Mohammed) is so down to earth,” said Anne Archer Hinkle, co-owner and Director of Bloodstock Services for her family’s Hinkle Farms, which consigned the filly. “To have the top buyers come and look at your horses and be willing to spend all that money on them is a great feeling. We’re so grateful to have the opportunity to bring them here and show them to everybody and just hope they go off and are all Grade 1 winners.”
Joining Sheikh Mohammed at the top of the September Sale buyers list was Sheikh Hamdan, whose Shadwell Estate Company Ltd. spent $12,345,000 for 19 horses to rank second by total purchases. Leading Shadwell’s acquisitions were three yearlings purchased for $1.2 million each: a War Front colt and filly and a colt by Medaglia d’Oro.
“We were pleased to welcome Sheikh Mohammed and his wife, Princess Haya, to Keeneland for the first time in a number of years,” Elliston said. “His presence and the participation of his brother, Sheikh Hamdan, and the Coolmore contingent change the atmosphere of the sale. It creates an excitement that reverberates around the sales grounds.”
The depth and breadth of Keeneland’s buying bench, assembled by the sales team as part of a global, year-round marketing and recruitment effort, set the auction house apart from its competitors. Buyers from across North America and more than 20 foreign countries representing Europe, the Middle East, Asia, South America and Latin America converged at Keeneland for the September Sale.
“Week 1 sets the table and then the second week follows,” Russell said. “We are able to recruit buyers from South America, Korea and Russia to buy in Books 3 through 6. They like the American-bred speed dirt horse and know they are going to get good quality when they come here regardless of the price.”
Purchasers of the sale’s 27 seven-figure yearlings were nearly equally divided between 13 U.S. and 14 international interests.
M.V. Magnier, representing Irish-based Coolmore, paid $5,275,000 for four yearlings, led by the aforementioned sale-topping $2.4 million War Front colt, an American Phaorah filly for $1.2 million and a Tapit colt for $1.1 million.
Other prominent foreign interests were Liliana Solari’s Don Alberto Corporation, which bought a Tapit filly for $1.4 million, and Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani’s Qatar Racing.
Domestic buyers also flexed their spending muscle to number among the sale’s top buyers by gross: SF Bloodstock/Starlight West; Amer Abdulaziz’s Phoenix Thoroughbreds, whose purchases included a Medaglia d’Oro colt for $2.1 million and an Empire Maker colt for $1.35 million; Ben Glass, on behalf of Gary and Mary West; Mike Ryan, who signed the ticket for Secret Agent, an Uncle Mo colt for $1.4 million; Don Adam’s Courtlandt Farm; China Horse Club/Maverick Racing, which purchased undefeated 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify for $500,000 in 2016 and bought two million-dollar yearlings this year; Larry Best’s OXO Equine, which bought three horses for more than $1 million each; Peter Brant’s White Birch Farm, who partnered with Three Chimneys on a Quality Road colt for $1.1 million; and Gatewood Bell’s Cromwell Bloodstock.
“Like everyone (will say), the obvious ones you had to pay for,” Bell said. “We got outbid on a lot more than we bought, but we were very pleased with what we got. It was a really good group to be able to select from. That was the beauty of it: You had so many people with a lot of money and all these (horses) are finding new homes. There was something for everybody. If (a horse) didn’t catch your eye, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not catching somebody else’s eye. There was just a lot to choose from.”
Cromwell bought yearlings ranging in price from $10,000 (in partnership with trainer Wesley Ward) to $625,000 in Books 1 through 6.
“You obviously have different clients that you’re looking (at yearlings) for and different orders and different goals with each horse you’re buying,” Bell said. “There are good horses in every range for every level throughout the whole sale. I bought the one colt for $625,000. For me, he was a must-have out of that session. I was thrilled to get him for that.”
The September Sale also attracted a number of leading trainers from across North America and internationally. More than 70 trainers attended the sale, including Chad Brown, the 2016-2017 Eclipse Award winner; seven-time Eclipse winner Todd Pletcher; and Racing Hall of Famers Steve Asmussen, Roger Attfield, Bob Baffert, Mark Casse, Neil Drysdale, Jerry Hollendorfer, D. Wayne Lukas, Ron McAnally, Richard Mandella and Bill Mott. Other notables included Tom Amoss, Bret Calhoun, Christophe Clement, Brad Cox, Keith Desormeaux, Kiaran McLaughlin, Kenny McPeek, Peter Miller, Dale Romans, John Sadler, Dallas Stewart and Wesley Ward.
Representing Europe were such conditioners as Godolphin’s trainer, Saaed bin Suroor; John Gosden, trainer of three-time 2018 Group 1 winner and September Sale graduate Roaring Lion; and Aidan O’Brien of Coolmore and his son, Joseph O’Brien.
Contributing to the buoyant market was the continued success of September Sale graduates on the world stage, led by Justify, four-time Grade 1 winner Monomoy Girl and Roaring Lion. Through Sept. 22, September Sale alumni had won 164 graded and group stakes around the world this year, including North America as well as England, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Norway and the United Arab Emirates.
Exemplifying the sire power of the September Sale was the fact that 11 sires were represented by million-dollar yearlings: American Pharoah, Curlin, Empire Maker (with his first yearlings since returning to the U.S.), Ghostzapper, Into Mischief, Medaglia d’Oro, Pioneerof the Nile, Quality Road, Tapit, Uncle Mo and War Front.
Uncle Mo was the sale’s leading sire by gross with 65 yearlings sold for $22,392,000. They included three million-dollar horses: Secret Agent, a $1.4 million colt sold to Mike Ryan, agent; a $1.1 million filly purchased by Godolphin; and Wall Street Lion, a colt bought by China Horse Club/Maverick Racing for $1 million.
Medgalia d’Oro ranked second, represented by 34 yearlings sold for $20,075,000. Five of his yearlings sold for seven figures, led by a colt purchased by Phoenix Thoroughbreds for $2.1 million.
The excitement generated by the first crop by American Pharoah lived up to the hype as 47 of his yearlings sold for $19,585,000, for an average of $416,702. Among them were three million-dollar horses: a $2.2 colt million sold to Godolphin, a $1.4 million colt that went to OXO Equine and a $1.2 million filly purchased by Magnier.
One seller who was pleased was Arthur B. Hancock III, whose Stone Farm consigned a $1.05 million Curlin filly during the fourth session and a $420,000 Quality Road filly, who topped the eighth session during Book 3.
“We had good horses, and it seems like for a good horse there are a lot of people here,” Hancock said. “We say, ‘Sometimes it’s chicken, sometimes it’s feathers, and this time we got chicken.’ The economy is good, stock market is up, everybody is here, and you just have to have a good horse with a good pedigree.”
For the fourth consecutive year and 20th time since 1988, Taylor Made Sales Agency was the September Sale’s leading consignor. Taylor Made sold 300 horses for $47,317,400, among them three seven-figure sales topped by the Medaglia d’Oro colt sold to Phoenix Thoroughbreds for $2.1 million.
During Sunday’s final session, Keeneland sold 183 yearlings for $1,334,200, for an average of $7,291 and a median of $4,000. There was no comparable session in 2017.
Ken and Sarah Ramsey paid the day’s highest price of $70,000 for a colt by Court Vision. Consigned by Vinery Sales, agent for Haymarket Farm, the colt is out of the Forestry mare Baytree.
Every horse sold during the 2018 September Sale is eligible to earn cash rewards through Keeneland’s September Sale Seller Bonus Program introduced in 2017. The program offers cash rewards to sellers (owners at the time of sale) of horses that win Grade/Group 1, 2 or 3 stakes as a 2- or 3-year-old. Sellers receive cash rewards for yearlings that were sold at the September Sale based on the following criteria: $10,000 Seller Bonus value for your first Grade/Group 1 stakes win; $7,500 for your first Grade/Group 2 win; and $5,000 for your first Grade/Group 3 victory.
To date, six horses – So Perfect, Aster Pegasus, Sombeyay, Opry, Game Winner and Serengeti Empress – sold at the 2017 September Sale have earned the Seller Bonus. Undefeated Fog of War recently became the first graduate to enter the 2017 September Sale Book 1 Bonus pool with his victory in the Summer (G1) at Woodbine.
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The September Sale also marked the debut of a new service that enabled authorized veterinarians who used the on-site Repository to view records online between the close of each session to 8 a.m. ET the following morning.
“We had a lot of requests from veterinarians for online access, especially because some of their clients are in different time zones,” Keeneland Racing and Sales Operations Manager Ashley Whalen said. “They might get a call about a horse selling the next day, and not having the ability to view the radiographs was putting them in a bind. The new online access has been well received.”
Racing resumes at Keeneland on Friday, Oct. 5, opening day of the 17-day Fall Meet. The fall season kicks off with Fall Stars Weekend featuring 10 stakes worth $3.95 million, including nine Breeders’ Cup Challenge Races. Keeneland’s next auction is the November Breeding Stock Sale, to be held Nov. 5-16.