The idea behind Keeneland spreading the select portion of its September yearling catalog out over four days this season was to let buyers determine quality for themselves instead of having a single catalog declare which offerings were worthy of the top of the market.
Even with its more inclusive format, the first of four Book 1 sessions still yielded results resembling its traditional boutique roots as the bellwether sale of the Thoroughbred marketplace got off to an energized start for its 12-day run.
Those holding a positive outlook heading into a revamped version of the Keeneland September yearling auction put their collective money where their mouths were Monday as four seven-figure yearlings sparked the first day's gross of $34,735,000 million generated by 130 head sold, a 14.67 percent increase over the single select session that was held in 2012.
In an effort to keep up with market demands, Keeneland had repeatedly tweaked the Book 1 format in recent years, holding two evening sessions in 2011 before going to a best-of-the-best one night showcase 12 months ago and the broader four-day select run this sale.
Monday's average of $267,192 and median of $200,000 were down 33.84 and 42.86 percent, respectively, against the day last year. The altered format is being judged less on the head-to-head numbers for the first handful of days and more on its overall breadth and depth.
Much to the delight of sales officials and sellers, both international and domestic buyers were aggressive in their pursuit of quality offerings with representatives from the Niarchos family landing the day's most sought after baby, a bay filly by Medaglia d'Oro that sold for $1.5 million.
"I think there is an insatiable demand for high, high quality horses, and they're not offered very often," said John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Sales, which sold a Malibu Moon filly out of Grade I winner Hollywood Story to Northwest Stud for $1.35 million. "Now that people feel confident in a resilient market and economy, I think you're going to see the high end horses get more expensive every day and every year for the next several.
"We're in a market where the high end stuff is really in demand and I think you're going to find out here this week."
In spreading the select portion of the sale out over several days, Keeneland officials think it could have taken the edge off the intimidation factor some buyers felt with trying to compete against global powerhouses.
Though said buyers still remain selective, as evident by the rate of horses not sold coming in at 30.48 percent Monday, the new format was singled out as a catalyst for getting those who may not have been here at this stage in past years to open up their pockets.
"There was a hesitation I think from some people saying they didn't want to buy in Book 1, that they couldn't afford to buy in Book 1," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "Then they get into Book 2 and spend more money than they would have in Book 1. Now we have everyone on the grounds, working out which ones they can afford, which ones they can't.
"That's what we were hoping to accomplish with this format."
Consigned by Gainesway, the session-topping Medaglia d'Oro filly qualified as a collector's item. Out of the A.P. Indy mare Flying Passage, the filly is a half sister to graded stakes winners Hungry Island and Soaring Empire.
Flying Passage herself comes from a top female line, out of Grade I winner Chic Shirine who is a full sister to champion Queena.
"A lovely filly from a superb family," said Alan Cooper, who purchased the filly on behalf of the Niarchos clan. "She'll be a good addition to the broodmare band in due course hopefully. She was just beautiful, the way she showed herself."
Cooper added that the filly would be bound for Europe.
Monday's four seven-figure yearlings is just three short of the seven million-plus offerings total generated during last year's September exercise.
With a number of top individuals still cataloged for the days ahead, the expectation is for the momentum to only rise.
"You know quality rises to the top," said Michael Hernon of Gainesway. "It's a very strong start for us and we anticipate a strong sale."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.