Keeneland’s September Yearling Sale ended its 13-session run on Sunday with gross sales of $360,004,700, fifth highest in September Sale history, headlined by the record $8.2 million American Pharoah filly purchased by Mandy Pope’s Whisper Hill Farm and the $4.1 million colt by Curlin sold to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin. A change in format to Books 1 and 2 boosted the vibrant market by enhancing the quality of Book 3 and beyond and creating excitement from start to finish of the sale.
Final receipts were just behind last year’s $377,130,400 to rank as the second-highest gross since 2007. During this year’s sale, 2,855 yearlings sold compared to 2,916 in 2018.
Cumulative average of $126,096 was down 2.50% from last year’s record $129,331. The median of $45,000 decreased 10% from $50,000 in 2018.
22 Sell for $1 Million or More
In all, 22 horses sold for seven figures each, including seven that sold for $2 million or more, and were purchased by 14 of the industry’s leading domestic and foreign buyers.
“This September Sale sparked a positive energy that reverberated through the sales grounds and the region,” Keeneland President and CEO Bill Thomason said. “The presence again this year of Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan, the strong representation of top domestic buyers, the high quality of the yearlings brought to market and the great feedback we received about the format changes, barn improvements and enhanced amenities all combined to make this a special sale. And its economic impact extends far beyond Keeneland to benefit local hospitality, tourism and retail.”
Keeneland successfully reformatted Books 1 and 2 this year to catalog 516 fewer horses during that period, reducing Book 1 from four to three sessions. The goal of the format change was to give buyers extra time to inspect horses on the grounds.
“We’ve received positive feedback from horsemen about the format change, and we are pleased with the consistently strong level of trade it generated throughout the sale,” Keeneland Vice President of Racing and Sales Bob Elliston said. “Buyers suggested we catalog fewer horses up front and we responded. By making that change, we extended the quality farther into the sale and created momentum for the second week.”
“The new format worked very well,” Keeneland Director of Sales Operations Geoffrey Russell said. “Book 1 was a sale within itself. It had great energy to it. There was more energy on the grounds the weekend prior to the start of the sale than I’ve seen in a long time. It had a great buzz going into it. Having fewer horses in Book 2 really set that sale up very well and helped Book 3.”
American Pharoah Filly Sells for $8.2 Million
The third session of Book 1 was especially memorable, realizing an average of $524,855 and a median of $375,000, led by the sale of the $8.2 million filly by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah who is a half-sister to four-time champion Beholder, Grade 1 winner Mendelssohn and Grade 1 winner and leading sire Into Mischief. Eight horses sold for $1 million or more during the session, which was marked by spirited, persistent bidding.
“It’s been an incredible sale,” bloodstock agent Mike Ryan, who bought horses on nine days of the auction and was the third-leading buyer with 30 purchases totaling $8,390,000, told Thoroughbred Daily News. “I don’t recall in many years seeing a sale like … Wednesday, the final day of Book 1. That afternoon was one of the strongest sales I can remember in many years, and it’s carried through. Book 2 was extremely strong as was Book 3. Some of the pinhookers have done very well and some breeders have done very well based on stud fees, too. A lot of people have had a good week, which is great for the business. The energy and electricity here all week has been pretty palpable.”
Market strength was reflected in seven-figure yearlings sold on each day of Book 2, along with a $625,000 Quality Road colt on the second day of Book 3, a $300,000 Maclean’s Music colt in Book 5 and the participation of such notable buyers as Mike Ryan, Kenny McPeek, Starlight, Cromwell Bloodstock, Ben McElroy, Dale Romans and Mike Repole’s Repole Stables deep into the second week.
“We consider the September Sale to be a two-week sale of different markets,” Russell said. “It’s one-stop shopping for buyers participating at any level of the market. Instead of having to come to Keeneland for five different yearling sales, buyers just have to come once a year. It’s a great convenience to both buyers and sellers.”
Buyer Justin Casse, who signed the ticket for the $625,000 Quality Road colt, said the demand for horses at that time, midway through the sale, was “pleasantly surprising. I’ve been selling some and trying to buy some. You’ve got to be prepared for the ones you like.”
“It was wonderful to see all the breeders rewarded for their hard work,” said bloodstock agent Marette Farrell, who signed the ticket on a $1 million colt by Candy Ride (ARG) for Speedway Stable to top the fifth session. “There were a lot of different entities with a lot of money, so that was great to see. I think there was a much better concentration of good horses in Book 1. It really got the energy going. It helped the market (in later books). The buyers realized they had to step up if they wanted the horse.”
The $8.2 million filly, consigned by breeder Clarkland Farm, is the highest-priced yearling filly in Keeneland sales history. Her price equals the fourth-highest price ever paid at the auction. It is the highest price at the September Sale since the $11.7 million given for Meydan City in 2006 and equals the 10th-highest price in Keeneland sales history.