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European participation a factor in strong gains for September Sale

Michele MacDonald on the auction that rocketed to new records in 2017

Keeneland: Marathon 12-day auction concluded on Sunday
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Fueled by a strong domestic economy along with what some called an insatiable demand for horses as well as a renewed interest among international buyers - particularly from Europe - Keeneland’s September yearling sale rocketed to its highest turnover in nearly a decade.

With the pavilion still humming with potential buyers during the last two days of the marathon 12-session auction, Keeneland recorded sales of 2,555 yearlings for $307,845,400, marking the first time gross rose above $300 million since 2008 and the chilling effects of the global economic recession.

By the time the last horse had strolled out of the ring on Saturday, Keeneland also had established a record average price at this sale, the world’s largest yearling marketplace, at $120,487, and record median price of $57,000. Previous record average of $112,427 was set in 2006, while the former record median was $50,000, attained in the years from 2013 through 2015.

“The sale exceeded our expectations,” Keeneland director of sales Geoffrey Russell said as the hammer was about to fall for the final time. “There’s been a good vibe out there - people are having fun. There was just a different buzz here this year and a lot more electricity.”

Russell cited the strongest European participation in roughly a decade as one of the most positive factors.

“And it came not just from the three strongest buyers who usually shop here,” he said, referring to the Shadwell and Godolphin operations of the Maktoums and to Coolmore, “but also from both end users and pinhookers. And it was good to see old friends coming back this year, people like Chris Richardson of Cheveley Park Stud, who hadn’t been here in a while.”

Keeneland reported that over $80 million was spent by buyers located outside of the United States. Spending was up for many buyers, with 75 separate accounts making total purchases of over $1 million.

“It seems like the demand is insatiable right now. It’s very refreshing,” observed Michael Hernon of Gainesway, which led all consignors selling 50 or more horses by average price of $182,733 for 118 sold and which ranked third by overall gross with $21,562,500. “I think Keeneland has done a great job soliciting overseas buyers. The buying base is very strong and the clearance rate (74.8% of the horses offered) is high.”

Hernon said it was good to see more Europeans back at Keeneland, drawn in part by the success of American-breds at Royal Ascot.

“People are realising, as Vincent O’Brien did many years ago, that the American horses are fast and durable, they mature early and they can run at the highest levels,” said Hernon, who was co-breeder of a $1 million Scat Daddy filly that will go to Europe to race for Phoenix Thoroughbreds.

Buyers from more than 20 countries signed tickets at Keeneland, according to Russell, with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Shadwell leading all others with 17 purchases for $12,475,000. The top ten ranked buyers included four others with international connections: Godolphin, MV Magnier, Kerri Radcliffe Bloodstock for Phoenix Thoroughbreds and partners, and China Horse Club in connection with Maverick Racing.

Bold investing in young stock means that breeders and pinhookers who were selling now have cash to return to the November bloodstock sales to acquire broodmares and weanlings, noted Tony Lacy of Four Star Sales, which sold 77 yearlings for $7,748,700.

“This is a very vibrant market. Unless something goes off in the global economy or if something happens politically, we’re in a very positive environment,” Lacy said. “American horses are being well received around the world - they’ve had great success in Europe and Australasia. I think we’re in a very good spot for a long time.”

Carrie Brogden of Select Sales Agency and co-owner of her family’s Machmer Hall Farm in Kentucky said the market has stabilised where it was prior to the global crash.

“If we can keep supply and demand level, we can start dealing with some of the issues in our industry,” Brogden said, listing the elimination of raceday drugs as the top priority in her view.

“We need to get the drugs out of our industry - we’ve got to do it. Everyone’s afraid of greeting rid of the drugs but every other country in the world races without raceday drugs,” she said.

British bloodstock agent Oliver St. Lawrence said some international buyers remain concerned about medication use in American racing.

“I think it probably has weakened your breed. But if you find the right horse to go on grass, they’ll go perfectly well,” St. Lawrence said while buying ten yearlings at Keeneland for $1,930,000 on behalf of clients Fawzi Nass and Sir Mark Prescott.

Overall, Russell said yearlings being sent for training in Britain reached an all-time high since Keeneland began conducting tests to meet the British Horseracing Authority’s rule banning anabolic steroids in horses imported for racing. He declined to reveal the number of the tests conducted, saying that Keeneland and the BHA have agreed to keep that information confidential.

There’s been a good vibe out there - people are having fun. There was just a different buzz here this year and a lot more electricity
E.W. Terms
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