In an effort to alleviate the strain on its participants and channel some of its past glory, Keeneland officials announced Friday they are altering the format of the September yearling sale, the largest auction in the world of its kind.
Instead of starting on a Monday as has been its tradition, the September exercise will now hold its two select sessions featuring the top-end stock on Sunday and Monday beginning September 12 with both sessions conducted at night.
The select sessions will be limited to 200 yearlings total with 100 horses selling each night.
Keeneland officials said such ideas had been in the works for years, but the economic crash of 2008 prompted them to hold off on their implementation. However, when the 2009 September auction saw a 41.5 percent drop in gross sales compared to the previous year, the need for change was heightened.
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In having two boutique evening sessions to kick off the sale, Keeneland hopes it can recapture some of the energy and glitz that was the norm with its now defunct July yearling sale, which was as much a social event as it was a major auction.
"An important comment made to us was that, in a way, September had become way too businesslike and that we were just churning people through here," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "We believe nighttime sessions will add that extra level of excitement."
"There will be an opportunity now to get back some of the pizzazz of the evening sale in Lexington," added Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys Farm, a leading consignor. "The old format was a real grind for everybody, and I think Keeneland realized they had to change something. They listened and I think this will be a real positive."
In addition to altering the select portion of its catalog, Keeneland will now spread out its "Book 2," or second-tier horses, over four days with 1,300 yearlings selling during daytime sessions Tuesday through Friday.
While the second book of the catalog will expand from its usual two-day slot, Keeneland will sell fewer yearlings each day — about 325 compared to the 400-plus that had become commonplace in recent years — and will catalog them in alphabetical order.
The sale's traditional off day has also been moved from Friday to Saturday with the open sessions picking up on Sunday.
"What we wanted to accomplish was having more of the quality yearlings in front of buyers but in a less hurried atmosphere," said Keeneland president Nick Nicholson. "These are such important decisions, and we wanted to give people the appropriate time to see all the yearlings."
The sale is slated to conclude on September 26 but Russell said the end date is dependent on the number of horses cataloged.
Considering last year's September's sale was criticized by some for its lack of quality at the top end, officials hope the sale's new format will convince sellers to enter their premier stock.
"They all said they would support this with their horses," Russell said.
By spreading out the depth of its offerings the first week, elite buyers who may have left early may stick around, thus increasing their spending activities.
"What I like about Book 2 being over four days is you get away from people only staying for the first couple of days because there could be a nice horse on the sixth day," Clay said.