All eyes will be on Keeneland the weekend of Halloween as the Breeders' Cup is held in Lexington for the first time. Not only is the racetrack faced with the logistics of hosting an internationally renowned event, but also how to make a seamless transition to the November Breeding Stock Sale.
The Breeders' Cup will be held Friday and Saturday with the November sale beginning two days later. With such close proximity, Keeneland was faced with accommodating both horses running in the Breeders' Cup and horses preparing to be sold.
Keeneland has a blueprint for the changes to be made, and most consignors are buying into it. Spendthrift Farm general manager Ned Toffey said Keeneland has had a workable plan since the beginning. "Keeneland figured out the logistics before the Breeders' Cup was even announced."
The key to keeping both operations running smoothly, according to Keeneland's plan, is to keep them separate. Horses running in the Breeders' Cup are lodged in barns on Rice Road, located across from the training track. In the meantime, horses being sold in Book 1 will be allowed to ship in Thursday and will occupy the main barn area in barns 1 through 24 only.
Never miss a local story.
One unique and important aspect of the typical Keene land experience is the openness regarding the main barn area during regular meets. With the influx of traffic, Keeneland is implementing stricter security around the main barns in order to keep sales horses and staffs undisturbed. Consignors and their staffs along with buyers will have security credentials, restricting race-going crowds from the area. Vendors including blacksmiths, veterinarians, tack trucks and feed trucks will also have credentials.
A green screen will be set up along the pathway from the shuttles depositing race-goers into the grandstand. Associate director of sales Tom Thornbury says this will make interference with sales horses nearly impossible. "The barns will be like an island. There will be no Breeders' Cup access."
Barn setup for Book 1 horses began Tuesday.
Keeneland hopes this will give staffs time to become accustomed to the crowd and temporary restrictions. Kerry Cauthen, Four Star Sales managing partner, says the new setup will require communication to be effective. "It's about getting the staff aware," Cauthen said. "We can't revert to old habits."
While Keeneland seems to have a solid plan answering every logistical question, one still remains. How will having one of the largest horse racing events in the world affect the numbers of the November sale? While it might seem the influx of such a large crowd on Keeneland grounds will deter potential buyers, most consignors are not concerned.
"Keeneland is about selling horses, first and foremost," Toffey said. He also mentioned the success of Magic Millions held annually in Australia. The event combines six days of sales and one day of racing all on one compound. The 2015 Gold Coast Yearling Sale was held Jan. 7-13 with Jan. 10 hosting nine races.
Consignors are optimistic the amount of star horses seen by Keeneland attendees Friday and Saturday will persuade buyers to stick around for the duration of the November auction.
The "American Pharoah effect," a nod to the mainstream interest that has been generated by the sport having its first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, has been cited by more than one sales participant.
"We might have momentum with American Pharoah," said Mark Taylor, vice president of marketing and public sales for leading consignor Taylor Made Sales.
"This game is built on emotions."
Taylor also mentioned that numbers for the November sale at Keeneland saw a boost whenever the Breeders' Cup was held at Churchill Downs. While there was an increase of million-dollar horses bought each year after the event was held in Louisville, there is no set trend regarding gross, average and median sales.
In 1988, the first year Churchill Downs held the Breeders' Cup, gross, average and median all declined compared to 1987 numbers. In 2006, gross increased, median was equal to 2005 and average numbers declined.