Count Keeneland sales, steeped in tradition, among companies ushering in new technology in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously the Lexington, Ky., group announced video inspections of all horses in Book 1 and Book 2 of its September yearling sale.
Keeneland is also on the verge of implementing virtual platforms for buyers to bid on horses.
“Think about it in two ways,” said Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston. “The one that’s been reported on -- we’ve been doing some focus group testing with prominent customers around a standalone digital platform," Elliston said.
This system would allow Keeneland to conduct sales on a year-round basis, creating endless possibilities to feature dispersals, horses that didn't meet their reserves in regular sales sessions or a single big-name attraction.
“This is to bring hot horses to market, quickly, around the calendar -- not just in September and November," Elliston said. "That is really exciting and we’ve received some really good feedback from that.”
Keeneland has conducted focus groups with trusted consignors and buyers, holding mock auctions to test the platform. Elliston hopes the first platform can be implemented in late spring or early summer.
Another system would allow offsite bidders to put their hat in the ring at Keeneland's regular sales "if they cannot be physically on the grounds,” Elliston said. “So we’re developing a separate connectivity from the standalone platform.
"We are introducing virtual and increased connectivity around the calendar, but also as part of September through products that are designed specifically for those types of auctions.”
Elliston says that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be buyers who may not be willing or able to make the trip to Keeneland to bid in person this season.
“We have to give folks options in this environment,” Elliston said. “Again, I’m hopeful and optimistic that we will have people on the grounds and they will know we have done everything we can to protect their safety. They should feel confident about that.”
While it is impractical to envision an entirely virtual Keeneland September Yearling Sale at this time, the additional technological aspect is necessary. Elliston, however, knows there is no substitute for the high drama that can sometimes unfold in an auction house.
“I tell the story all the time,” Elliston said. “I get goosebumps thinking about it now. When the half to Beholder by American Pharoah went through the ring last fall and brought $8.2 million, the enthusiasm and excitement in that room cannot be replicated through a computer.”
The 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale is scheduled for Sept. 14-26. Until all yearlings for sale have been catalogued, the dates for the sessions encompassing the first two books of the sale are pending.