Among the many concerns heading into the Keeneland September yearling sale was how much money would be available for even the best offerings.
While the top end of the market certainly isn't what it was during the boom of a few years ago, the first two nights of the world's largest yearling auction have again proven that discriminating dollars are still available for the right horse.
On the heels of an opening session that produced the highest-priced yearling at public auction in four years, the second night of the Keeneland September exercise continued to inspire some confidence that there is life in the beleaguered commercial market.
Bolstered by the sale of a chestnut son of Distorted Humor for $2.05 million to agent Mike Ryan on Monday, the newly revamped select portion of the auction yielded more positive results as buyers continued to shop harder than expected.
Keeneland's decision to hold its select sessions with about 200 yearlings over two nights allowed buyers more time to focus their attention on the best of the best. While some of the industry's biggest players — most notably Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum and John Magnier's Coolmore Stud — have pulled back in their spending of late, others have stepped forward, resulting in an average of $348,858 and median of $285,000 that are about 30 percent ahead of last year's pace.
"I didn't know how (the new format) would work out because it is such a different thing. It's almost like they put the old July yearling sale right before the September sale," said Seth Semkin, racing manager for B. Wayne Hughes, who bought a son of Distorted Humor for $900,000 Monday.
"I think it's proving to be pretty strong overall. I'm sure Keeneland is happy with the way it's gone."
A total of 127 horses was sold the first two days for a gross of $44,305,000, compared to last year when $58,756,00 was generated from sales of 222 horses in the first two sessions.
The overall rate of horses not sold came in at 31.35 percent, an improvement from 2009 when the buyback rate was 38.2 percent.
"We hoped the momentum from last night would continue, and it did, as reflected by a strong average and median," said Geoffrey Russell, Keene land's director of sale. "It is still a very selective market. There are many, many good horses still left, so hopefully those buyers will become active in Book 2."
As was the case Sunday, when a son of A.P. Indy sold for $4.2 million early in the session, it didn't take long before the seven-figure barrier was cracked Monday.
Consigned by Lane's End Farm, the session-topping Distorted Humor colt boasted a pedigree to match his physical prowess as he is out of the Storm Cat mare Angel's Nest.
Angel's Nest is out of the champion race mare Miesque and is a half-sister to Group I winner and leading sire Kingmambo and Group I winner East of the Moon.
"He was the complete package," said Ryan, who bought the colt on behalf of an undisclosed client based overseas. "He's got unbelievable stallion potential. I mean, the sky is the limit for the horse."
There are still limits to how ambitious buyers will be, as evidenced by an A.P. Indy filly that failed to meet her reserve after bringing a final bid of $1.25 million Monday.
Even though the market remains spotty for horses that don't meet all the lofty criteria, there is hope the momentum built up during the past 48 hours will spill over into Book 2, which is now spread over four days.
"I think it's been a great sale, I think it's surprisingly good," said Greg Goodman of Mt. Brilliant Farm, which bought back the $1.25 million A.P. Indy filly. "I like the format; you've got the very best horses in the first two days, and that's good for all of us.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the market. It's not what I expected and I'm not sure what the reasons are. It may be the format, it may be something else. But it's solid."
The Keeneland September sale continues through Sept. 26 with an off day Saturday.