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'High to middle will be very strong, and after that it’s sort of guesswork'

Michele MacDonald gets the word on the ground before the auction starts

Inspections are under way at Keeneland for the world's largest yearling sale
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Buyers from around the world have descended on Lexington for the world’s largest yearling marketplace, the Keeneland September Sale, which begins a 13-session run on Monday with 4,538 individuals catalogued – the highest number since 2010.

Activity in the barns was so intense on Friday, even before all of the 989 yearlings that fill the four-session Book 1 had arrived on the grounds, that parking places were difficult to find.

“I’ve never seen it like this on a Friday before the beginning of the sale,” observed Dr John Chandler of Mill Ridge Farm. “I hope all the people means lots of money.”

Shoppers and consignors had to dodge thunderstorms over the weekend, with more rain predicted for the beginning of the sale, but spirits did not seem to be dampened by the cloudbursts.

As Coolmore’s MV Magnier and his team and record-breaking racing Hall of Fame trainer D Wayne Lukas inspected yearlings on either side of the bustling Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consignment, Hill ‘n’ Dale president John Sikura said he expects strong action in the auction ring for the most attractive lots.

“All the sales to this point have been very robust for all the horses that meet the physical and veterinary inspection, and I would expect it to be the same here,” he said. “There will be plenty of money here for those types, and there will be a struggle underneath that. High to middle will be very strong, and after that it’s sort of guesswork.”

Hill ‘n’ Dale’s 30 yearlings for Book 1, following three withdrawals from the catalogue, represent a new era for the farm and its partners as the group includes the first foals of recent high-profile purchases such as $6 million champion Take Charge Brandi, $2.8m Grade 1 winner Callback and Grade 1 winner Got Lucky.

“We’re loaded in Book 1 – we really have the right sire power and the right physicals and the pedigrees to go along with them," said Sikura. "So, we’re hoping and expecting to have several top of the market sales."

Take Charge Brandi, a daughter of Giant’s Causeway who was trained by Lukas for Willis Horton, produced a chestnut Curlin colt last year who is hip 486. The colt’s third dam is Broodmare of the Year Take Charge Lady, dam of champion and freshman sire Will Take Charge and Grade 1 winner and sire Take Charge Indy.

The initial foal of Callback, a Street Sense mare, is hip 735, a bay colt by War Front who also possesses the pedigree of a potential sire. His third dam is a sister to Grade 1 winner and sire Girolamo and she produced Kentucky Derby winner and sire Super Saver.

Hill ‘n’ Dale’s offerings also include hip 458, a dark bay War Front colt who is the second foal out of Grade 1 winner Streaming, whose second dam is a half-sister to Belmont Stakes winners Rags To Riches and Jazil.

“He’s a beautiful horse from our best pedigree,” Sikura said of the Streaming colt. “We’re offering our best stock here and we’re hopeful they’ll be well received and stand out against the competition.”

Hill ‘n’ Dale is also handling yearlings for clients including Coolmore affiliates and Stonestreet Farm, and will offer for the latter hip 957, a Super Saver half-sister to champion Good Magic.

The consignment also features three colts by Tapit, last year’s leading sire at the September sale by average with 17 offspring selling for an average price of $950,000. The Tapit colt who is hip 393 is a half-brother to highly regarded young stallion Honor Code and is the full-brother of Serena’s Harmony, a filly who set a North American record when sold as a weanling to Bridlewood Farm at the 2014 Keeneland November sale for $3m.

Throughout all consignments, the Keeneland catalogue seems to provide more depth than in recent years, with the first yearlings sired by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah adding a large measure of luster to the sale. 

John Sikura: his Hill 'n' Dale sales draft contains many stellar pedigrees

Although nine of the 81 American Pharoah yearlings in the catalogue have been withdrawn to date, including seven of the 66 in Book 1, there are still plenty available, including hip 63, the half-sister to multiple champion and $9.5m broodmare prospect Songbird who is offered by Eaton Sales, agent.

Another yearling with high-wattage star power in his pedigree is hip 443 from Glennwood Farm, a chestnut colt by Will Take Charge who is a half-brother to Triple Crown winner Justify.

All the top buyers from last year, or their representatives, have been shopping. Their participation is key as statistics show that Shadwell, agent Mike Ryan, Godolphin and Magnier together provided about 16 per cent of the gross in 2017 when those four spent a combined $49.17m on 88 yearlings.

“It’s great to know that both Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan look like they’re willing to participate," said Peter O’Callaghan of Woods Edge Farm, which entered 58 horses for the sale including 14 in Book 1 prior to withdrawals. "At the end of the day, men like that, when they participate in the sale, it’s just such a help – they buy horses and are a great support to breeders,” 

O’Callaghan, who will offer both homebreds and pinhooks from weanling sales, said he is concerned about the new September sale format this year following a single-session Book 1 in 2017 and a three-session Book 1 in 2016.

“I think the market is very selective but it is very good," he said. "I wish there was a little more forgiveness in it. People seem to be very stringent on their requirements for sire and physicals, and then they find it difficult to buy horses. There has to be a little bit of give in it somewhere. People might have to be a little more forgiving on the vetting.

“I'm not a fan of this format,” he added. “It’s too big of a book and it’s too drawn out. It’s too difficult to work for buyers, too much ground to cover. So, I’m concerned about it. But at the same time, I know the very best of our horses will be fine. It’s the ones that are maybe one notch below that are a concern for me and are a concern for every consignor.

"I just hope that they have enough buyers, apart from the very top-end guys, recruited to be here for this first book. That’s really the crux of it all.”

Most consignors seem to be optimistic yet also realistic as time for the first fall of the hammer draws near.

“You couldn’t ask for more [interest from buyers] than what we’ve had in the initial phases of showing. What that translates into, we’ll see,” said Mill Ridge’s Headley Bell. “All you can do is present your horses and give them a chance. You’ve got a discerning market that will discern.

“There’s not a buyer for every horse and that’s the way it is – that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he added. “But as far as interest, people are looking for horses here and it’s a very upbeat atmosphere.”

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It’s too big of a book and it’s too drawn out. It’s too difficult to work for buyers, too much ground to cover
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