News and STORIES

Keeneland September Yearling Sale Kicks-Off Book 2

Author: Don Mckee
Published: Thursday September 17, 2020
Book 2 has kicked off at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale on Sept. 16, one of horse racing’s top events of the year. It followed a one-day break after the two-day Book 1, which saw 14 horses sold for seven figures.

No individual made it past the $1 million mark on Sept. 16, but the top horse of the day was a son of Uncle Mo, purchased for $950,000 by Mayberry Farm. Consigned by Gainesway, agent, the colt (Hip 506) comes out of the female family of Grade 1 winner and sire Twirling Candy. 

The Session’s Numbers

The session saw 185 reported yearlings for a gross of $40,861,000. The average price was $220,870, with a median of $180,000. There were 118 head unsold, resulting in an RNA Rate of 38.9%

The first three sessions of the sale saw 834 horses cataloged, and 411 horses sold for $129,081,000. The average price is $314,066, with a median of $250,000. With 238 head not meeting their reserves, the cumulative RNA rate is 36.7%.

The $50,000-$99,999 price range was the worst part of the market, with just 32 of the 76 offered being sold at the level. On the opposite end, all 21 that were offered in the $400,000-plus range sold. 

Because Book 1 of the 2019 auction consisted of three sessions, it is not ideal for year-to-year comparisons. However, 340 horses were sold a year ago for $160,463,000. The average price was $471,950, with a median of $355,000.

The RNA rate then was 26%.

Expected Outcome

Geoffrey Russell is the director of sales operations. According to him, it was somewhat expected that there would be no seven-figure horses on the day.

"Book 1 is where our million-dollar horses should be if we do our job right," Russell said. "Last year at this session, we had 16 horses bring over a half-million dollars, and this year we had 12. Given this is the year of COVID, I think that's a pretty strong statistic.”

"Last year was a surreal market. It was one of the strongest September markets in a long time. The whole feel of the market was very strong. To replicate that, even in a normal year, would have been difficult. What we're doing at the moment—in an unusually not-normal year—I think we should be very appreciative of our sellers who are here and our buyers who are here to make this market."

Russell also said the high RNA rate is a result of breeders looking to recover their investments. 

"When you breed at one end of the market and have to sell at another, it's very difficult to come to terms with that, and we're seeing some of that," Russell continued. "It's coming to the adjustment of 'what I have in the horse and what I'm getting for the horse.' We hope that adjusts as we go forward." 

Buyers are fighting for the same top-level horses. 

"They seem to alight on the same horses, driving those prices up," Russell said. 

Shannon Arvin is Keeneland’s president-elect and interim head of sales.

"In a time when there was such uncertainty about how much international participation there would be, we were very happy," Arvin said. "It's a very diverse buyer base. We continue to have a lot of activity on the internet, with 150 bids and six sold on the internet."

Even though the competition was focused on the top horses, there was a strong middle market as well. 

Ben Glass represents Gary and Mary West.

"It's a tough market in which to buy good horses," Glass said. "You lead a good one in there, you had better be tied on because there's a lot of money here. I've been blown out of the water. I don't know if it's a more select market or just more people on the same horses I'm on."

Representing the Wests, Glass signed for three yearlings for $375,000. 

"I haven't been able to get after it yet," Glass said. "Whatever we get, we get. We don't get excited and start chasing horses. We pick the ones we really like and go after them. We've never given the big money for horses. If we get the right one, we get it. We raise a lot of horses, too."