The juvenile marketplace very much mirrors its precocious equine participants in that it has a brief opportunity to make a lasting impression on the Thoroughbred industry's major players.
Heading into Keeneland's April 2-year-olds in training sale — the last major select juvenile exercise of the season — the most performance-driven segment of the sales arena has set itself up to have positive repercussions for months ahead.
With strong returns from the year's previous juvenile sales already in the bank, Keeneland's 2-year-old auction takes to the stage Monday with 161 juveniles catalogued for the one-day session beginning at 4 p.m.
While yearling sales, particularly Keeneland's marathon September event, are viewed as the truest barometer of the market's health, what transpires during the juvenile sales often indicates how much of a boom or bust sellers need to brace themselves for down the line.
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If yearling-to-juvenile resellers are able to lower their inventory and get positive returns on their investments, those outfits are more likely to put those dollars back into good-looking foals in the summer.
Since most pinhooking operations shop in the lower to middle market range, their participation is crucial to a marketplace still digging its way out of a drastic correction.
"The 2-year-old market is important because the 2-year-old consignors, not only do they buy horses, they're also the underbidders on horses," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "So if you have a successful 2-year-old season, it bodes well for the yearling year too."
The contraction in the supply of Thoroughbred horses has resulted in a number of top-end buyers all landing on largely the same group of offerings. While this year's Barretts sale in California and Fasig-Tipton and OBS juvenile sales in Florida each posted upswings in key categories, there is still concern over the amount of buyers for horses that are missing a check or two in the pedigree or physical department.
"The top end is very strong at the moment. We've been hearing comments from people that they haven't been able to buy anything at the others sales," Russell said. "The next level down doesn't seem to be as strong as it has been in the past though. They seem to be aiming for all those magic horses. In the past, people used to drop to the next level. But they don't seem to be doing that at the moment."
Keeneland's catalog is already being lauded for its quality this year — something that was evident when seven juveniles clocked an eighth of a mile in a wicked :9.4 during the pre-sale breeze up show on Thursday.
With 47 horses already withdrawn from the sale as of Sunday, there stands to be ample competition for the remaining lots.
"For what we're looking for in our type of horse, this was the strongest catalog of all the catalogs (this year)," trainer Mark Casse said. "Normally I'm only interested in probably less than 15 percent of the catalog and I found myself at about 50 percent for this sale."