Though one of the industry's most dedicated shoppers has been conspicuous by his relative silence at the Keeneland September yearling sale this week, the prevalence of Japanese buyers — among others — has been tabbed as one of the reasons the auction continues to trend upward.
The fourth day of action at the bellwether sale provided evidence for that theory.
Japan's Big Red Farm, which purchased dual classic winner I'll Have Another this summer, secured another prospect when it landed a son of Empire Maker for $1.1 million during the latest encouraging session at the world's largest yearling exercise.
After beginning his stud career at his birthplace Juddmonte Farm, Empire Maker was sold to the Japan Bloodstock Breeders Association in 2010. On Thursday, his athletic-looking bay son out of the multiple graded stakes winning Lu Ravi became the seventh horse to reach the seven-figure mark this week as Big Red's Shigeyuki Okada outlasted representatives of WinStar Farm in the bidding.
"It's great for everyone at the farm," said Peter O'Callaghan of Woods Edge Farm, which raised and consigned the Empire Maker colt. "(Lu Ravi) is a lovely mare, and we've had a great run with her ... but he's much the best she's ever had. Every breeder wants to strive to produce a horse like him."
Okada said the colt would indeed head to Japan, citing the colt's muscle and conformation among the most obvious selling points.
Bred by Nagako Fujita, the colt is a half-brother to stakes winner Ravi's Song. Lu Ravi, a daughter of A.P. Indy, herself comes from a dynamite female family as she is out of the Grade III winning mare At the Half and is a half-sister to Half Queen, dam of champion Halfbridled.
"We would have been very surprised if (the Japanese buyers) weren't as strong as they were," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "The U.S.-bred is very popular in Japan, and their participation is very much based on the exchange rate. They like to buy American horses ... and at the time it's affordable."
A son of Smart Strike added to the flurry when he sold to Stonestreet Stables late Thursday for $900,000, helping spark across-the-board gains for the session for the second straight day.
Heading into the 11-session sale's off day on Friday, the overall gross ($132,853,000) is down 8.51 percent with one fewer select day being offered, while the average ($202,829) is up 5.17 percent; the median ($150,000) is even with the 2011 sale to this point.
With Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum wearing the title as leading buyer at Keeneland for 11 of the last 13 years, the industry has at times seemed reliant on his economic influence.
The name of Sheikh Mohammed's agent John Ferguson has appeared on only two tickets thus far. Japan's K.K. Eishindo is the fourth-leading buyer four days in, and domestic shoppers like Fox Hill Farm, Live Oak Stud and Ben Glass have also been diligent participants.
"That's remarkable," Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales said after selling an Unbridled's Song colt to JJ Crupi for $800,000. "The horse business is resilient and there is always somebody coming in to pick up the slack. Of course, we don't want Sheikh Mohammed to go away."