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Demand for 'Saturday horses' sees six more lots make seven-figure sums

Buyers and sellers agree Keeneland has seen strongest market in ten years

The average for the first four days of selling at Keeneland stands at $363,780
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Fuelled by six more seven-figure transactions, Keeneland closed its blockbuster four-day September Yearling Sale Book 1 with another strong session on Thursday, topped by a son of Medaglia D'Oro sold for $2.1 million.

Keeneland reported 139 horses were sold during the session for gross receipts of $49,475,000, an average price of $355,935 and a median price of $300,000.

The 56 horses who did not sell represented 28.7 per cent of the total through the ring.

View sale results

From 989 head catalogued in Book 1, Keeneland reported 596 yearlings sold for $216,813,000, a 10.3 per cent gain over the $196,645,000 gross for the first four days of the marathon sale in 2017 that began with an ultra-select Book 1 followed by a three-day Book 2.

This year's four-day average of $363,780 was a 26 per cent improvement over the $288,759 figure a year ago, and the median rose 50 per cent to $300,000 from $200,000.

The 229 yearlings not sold represented an RNA rate of 27.8 per cent.

"There is a hunger for top-quality horses. People are looking for a 'Saturday horse' - that's what our business is founded on," Keeneland director of sales operations Geoffrey Russell said.

"At the moment, I think we have a good, strong group of top-end buyers who are willing to pay top price for these horses.

"I heard more complaints about people not being able to buy what they wanted because they were surprised at how much [the horses] brought, and these are the people who have the wherewithal to do it."

The new September sale format also proved successful, Russell said.

"Our new format worked very well," he said. "Our goal was to reduce the number of horses catalogued in the first week to give buyers the chance to get around to look at them all, and for consignors to be able to show them in a less cramped area.

"It worked very well from start to finish. We sold fewer horses for more money, more average, and more median and had less buybacks. So all indicators are very positive.

Russell continued: "We consider the Book 1 horses to be the cream of the North American crop, so they need to be showcased as such. We wanted to give buyers the chance to look at horses for all four days [after torrential rains made showing a challenge on Sunday], so we moved the sale start time back two hours, and I think it was beneficial. And it gave people a head start at looking at Saturday and Sunday horses."

The expanded Book 1 resonated with buyers, as the 26 yearlings sold for $1m or more to date is the most for the entire sale since the pre-recession auction in 2007, when 32 were sold for seven figures. There were 13 seven-figure yearlings sold in 2017.

The session-topper was purchased by Phoenix Thoroughbreds from Taylor Made Sales Agency on behalf of breeder Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings.

Out of the stakes-winning Montbrook mare Exotic Bloom, the colt is a half-brother to Stopchargingmaria, whose nine wins from 18 starts included three Grade 1 stakes en route to earning more than $3m. At Fasig-Tipton's The November Sale in 2016, Stopchargingmaria sold to Three Chimneys Farm for $2.8 million.

"He's beautiful," said Tom Ludt, head of US operations for Phoenix, while standing next to the entity's CEO, Amer Abdulaziz.

"He's got everything. He looks like he's got a big engine on him - he's going to be fast. He's a yearling, so he's got a great walk, but you're looking to the future... he's got all the right parts, and we'll just hope for the best.

"It's hard - it's a tough game and these are yearlings, and those are great people to compete against. And you ultimately make a decision, and this man to my left [Abdulaziz] really wanted him," Ludt said.

"He's a gorgeous specimen," Taylor Made's Mark Taylor said of the colt before the sale. "This colt is something to behold. He's got length and an unbelievable walk to him."

Phoenix also acquired a War Front colt (hip 810) from Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency for $200,000 and bought a Tapit colt (hip 857) from Taylor Made for $500,000.

Out of the Galileo Grade 1 winner Curvy, the War Front colt is from the immediate female family of fellow top-level winners Power and Footstepsinthesand.

Produced from Grade 1-winning millionaire Dream of Summer, the Tapit colt is a half-brother to Grade 1 winner and sire Creative Cause and multiple Grade 2 winner Destin.

It was obvious from the outset that there was plenty of depth to the market on day four, as buyers and sellers agreed the Keeneland auction was one of the most vibrant in recent years and certainly the strongest since the economic crisis ten years ago.

"I don't think I've seen [the market] any stronger," said Brutus Clay, CEO of Runnymede Farm, which sold a yearling for more than $1m for the second day in a row. "When you're selling, it always feels good, and when you're not selling, it doesn't feel strong. For the right horses, there are people willing to pay for those horses. It's a healthy market."

"It's been a great market," said Michael Hernon, sales director at Gainesway. "Quality is what the market wants to buy. There is a lot of money here, and it's coming from various quarters."

Hernon said that after the one-day dark day on Friday, he envisions continued strength in the market with Book 2, beginning on Saturday.

"I think you will see very strong trade when we start selling then," Hernon said.

Eric Mitchell and Samantha Robinson contributed to this story for all the latest news from America

Key data

Medaglia d'Oro
E.W. Terms
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