The Keeneland September yearling sale begins its 13-session run Monday, and expectations are for more of the same, with "the same" being a Thoroughbred marketplace that holds on to its recent gains.
At last year's sale, its best exercise since 2008, buyers from all segments of the market and all areas of the globe helped produce double-digit, across-the-board increases, including a record median of $50,000.
This year's catalog offers 4,181 entries, compared to 3,908 in 2013. With the juvenile market again providing strong returns and earlier yearling sales domestically and overseas holding their own, there appears to be ample support, from end users to yearling-to-juvenile resellers.
"I'm expecting more of the same from last year," said Duncan Taylor of Taylor Made Sales, the leading September consignor for nine of the past 10 years. "You look at the earlier sales, and they pretty much stayed even with what they've been doing. Some of them might have been down a little bit, but I don't think it was significant.
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"There are more horses in the sale, but still, there are less number of horses for the last two to three years in a row with the smaller foal crops. People have less horses to train, to run, and they need more horses."
This will be the second season that the Keeneland September sale offers a broader "Book One" format, spreading out the select horses over the first four days.
The concept of letting buyers figure out the best of the best instead of offering one or two days of boutique sessions was supported vocally and by actions a year ago. A total of 18 yearlings sold for $1 million or more, the most to reach the seven-figure mark since 2008.
With middle market shoppers returning to strength in recent years, buying during the second week of the sale could be as competitive as the top-end action.
"I'd like to see other sales do the same thing. Just roll them all in together and let the buyers have to figure out which ones are the select horses," Ken Wilkins, stallion director of Calumet Farm, said of the Keeneland format. "I think it's very beneficial to the sellers to have the buyers here as long as possible. It's kind of a no-brainer."
Declines in the size of the foal crop have made it harder to buy horses that tick all the boxes, as discerning shoppers often end up eying the same desirable handful.
There has been slightly more leeway as the market returns to steadier ground. However, the Fasig-Tipton July selected yearling sale and the OBS August yearling exercise, both of which saw more than 30 percent of their offerings fail to reach their reserve prices, showed that people were willing to walk away from offerings that didn't fit their programs.
"I think the horses that people land on, since there are fewer of them, are more expensive than they've been," said John Sikura of Hill 'n' Dale Farms. "It's still a pretty specific market for the horses that vet right, that are very athletic and have all the ingredients people are looking for.
"I don't think people are really that much more forgiving. They are more likely to bid a time or two more for the horse they like than buy a horse that doesn't really suit their standard."
Many of the usual big players had representatives at Keeneland during the weekend to examine yearlings, and there seemed to be the usual mix of domestic and international shoppers.
"Everybody seems to be positive and encouraged, so the general feeling is optimistic," Wilkins said. "There will be buyers there for the top end, and I think it's going to be strong. Once we get beyond that we'll see how far it carries."
Book One sessions run through Thursday and start at noon. After a day off, the sale resumes Saturday and continues through Sept. 21, with sessions starting at 10 a.m.